If nothing else, Desiree Reed-Francois has impeccable timing.
President Len Jessup announced Reed-Francois as UNLV’s new athletics director on April 17 to follow in the footsteps of Tina Kunzer-Murphy and take over athletics just as the Rebels are a few short years from taking the football field in a $1.9 billion NFL stadium, supplemented by the state-of-the-art Fertitta Football Complex now in the works.
A day after the announcement, Reed-Francois took to the podium at a media conference with her husband, Joshua; son, Jackson; father, Don; mother Gloria Jean; brother, Roman — and a plush Hey Reb! at the foot of the dais — looking on.
“My first team was with my brother,” she said. “When I was a little girl growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Roman and I played every sport. I was a rower, but he was the real athlete. My brother and I, we dreamed of him being a professional football player. He was going to play for the San Francisco 49ers, and I was going to be his lawyer.
“In 1994 a football accident changed our lives and it changed our dreams. Roman became a quadriplegic playing football; however, the story doesn’t end there. It was the lessons we learned in athletics of resiliency, determination, and a relentless competitive drive that caused our dreams to take a different course. My dream became finding a way to help other student-athletes achieve theirs.”
Reed-Francois comes to UNLV from Virginia Tech, where she has served as the deputy athletics director to Whit Babcock, who also attended April 18’s press conference. She was in charge of day-to-day operations for 22 programs and more than 600 student-athletes.
Ticket, marketing, and licensing revenue was up more than 20 percent over the past two years under Reed-Francois’ eye, bolstered by season ticket sellouts for Hokies football and big jumps in attendance for men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, soccer, and softball. She partnered on budget development, prepared the department’s facilities master plan, redesigned fundraising strategy, and revitalized the university’s student-athlete success program.
“There’s a great sense of enthusiasm and momentum in the community and at UNLV,” Reed-Francois said. “College athletics have the unique ability to educate, unite, and inspire. Together, we will do all of that at UNLV and build a championship culture that leads academically and athletically.”
With her appointment, effective June 1, Reed-Francois becomes the first Hispanic female athletic director at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Reed-Francois was a standout to the search committee, and Jessup was effusive in his praise for her experience and enthusiasm during the interview process.
As a research institution, Jessup said, UNLV is rising through its Top Tier strategic plan, “but a very fundamental part of the strategy is also making ourselves more formidable in the Mountain West (Conference) and, ultimately, positioning ourselves down the road for a move to a Power Five conference. Athletics is part and parcel with the strategy of where we’re going with this institution.
“This hire of the new athletics director is certainly one of the most important hires that I’ve participated in in my two years. It’s important for the entire university and the entire Rebel nation.”
While working under Babcock, Reed-Francois played a key role in recruiting head football coach Justin Fuente, the 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. She also helped secure new coaches for women’s basketball, lacrosse, and volleyball.
Her plan for UNLV is straightforward enough.
“Quite simply, we’re going to win.”