UMass athletic director John McCutcheon leaves Feb. 20 for same job at University of California-Santa Barbara

Last modified: Wednesday, February 04, 2015

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst athletic department is looking for a new leader to guide it through an important time.

The University of California-Santa Barbara announced Thursday that it has hired UMass athletic director John F. McCutcheon to fill the same post.

UMass will begin an immediate search for his replacement. An interim athletic director is expected to be announced shortly.

McCutcheon, 61, interviewed for the job in late November and acknowledged in early December that he was a finalist. He said Thursday that he is excited for himself and his wife to take the next step in his career.

“It’s something we felt like we wanted to look into and it’s worked out,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to fit in there well. It’s a very exciting opportunity for us.”

Before he was hired by UMass on Feb. 4, 2004, McCutcheon was the athletic director for 12 years at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, which is just under 100 miles north of Santa Barbara.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of John McCutcheon as our next Director of Intercollegiate Athletics,” UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang said in a prepared statement. “Mr. McCutcheon brings a wealth of experience in leading NCAA Division I athletics departments and I am confident that he will be an exceptional leader for our athletics program. We have all been impressed by his enthusiasm and his commitment to supporting our coaches and student-athletes in reaching their academic and athletic goals.”

McCutcheon, who previously was an athletic administrator at Boston College from 1980 to 1992, was hired to stabilize the UMass athletic department 11 years ago. After Bob Marcum retired in 2002, UMass had three different men leading the department – interim directors Bill Strickland and Thorr Bjorn as well as Ian McCaw, who was hired for the full-time post in 2002, but left to lead Baylor athletics after less than a year.

“John McCutcheon has led the university through an era of outstanding growth and success for more than a decade,” Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, said in a statement released Thursday by UMass. “He cares deeply about our student-athletes, and supported their success both on and off the field. Under John’s leadership, our athletics program meets the highest standards of academic integrity. He has played a vital role in elevating the stature of our flagship campus.”

McCutcheon has a contract in place through 2016 at UMass that pays him $259,338 annually.

Details about his contract at UCSB are not yet available.

During his tenure, McCutcheon has hired two men’s basketball coaches, four football coaches, and a hockey coach and has overseen the building or upgrading of several facilities, including the recently finished football performance center and press box, and the men’s basketball practice facility, which is expected to be completed in 2015.

However, the defining aspect of his tenure will be the upgrade of the football program from the Championship Subdivision to the Bowl Subdivision.

McCutcheon said he is proud of his 11-year tenure at UMass.

“The capital improvements that we’ve been able to put in place are transforming in some regards and will put the program in a very strong position for the future,” he said. “When I first got here, things were fairly unsettled. People didn’t know how many programs we would be able to maintain and what direction we were going to go. There were a lot of facility needs. There had been quite a bit of turnover and instability.

“I think we were able to lend a steady hand and guide through some pretty challenging economic times and still put us in position to make some strides with some significant capital improvements,” he added. “The infrastructure we’ve been able to build while I’ve been here is really going to serve the university well going forward I hope.”

Asked if he had any regrets about his time at UMass, McCutcheon did not offer any specifics.

“Hindsight is always 20-20,” he said. “You’d always want to have a little more success here or there and a decision might not have worked out the way you wanted it too. But all in all I’m very pleased with what we’ve done here at UMass.

“We made decisions based on good judgment that we had at the time and most of those decisions have worked out pretty well,” McCutcheon added. “Nobody is infallible, but I’m quite proud of what we’ve all done together. There were a lot of people working hard together.”

The new athletic director will play an important role in finding a new conference for the football program when the Minutemen leave the MAC following the 2015 season. Conference affiliation will strongly affect the ability by UMass to control costs and find new revenue streams for the program going forward. McCutcheon said he is confident that UMass football would eventually land in a conference.

“I think the conference situation is a question of time, not a question of if,” he said. “Sooner or later, I have every confidence that an opportunity will emerge that will be a great fit for UMass.”

McCutcheon will be introduced at UCSB during a press conference Tuesday. He will return and work at UMass until Feb. 20 and has offered to be a resource beyond that time.

“I told the chancellor if there’s anyway I can help before, during and after the transition I’ll make myself available to do that,” he said. “I have a lot of my heart and soul invested in this program. I have great friends here. I want nothing but the best for UMass.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at


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