Texas A&M University-San Antonio has hired Darnell Smith as the inaugural athletics director charged with leading efforts to implement an intercollegiate athletics program.
Smith, previously the assistant athletics director for the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Okla, will take the reins starting immediately with the start of the spring semester.
“His experience as a talented administrator and a strong advocate for the long-term success of ethnic minorities and women, as well as his time as a stand out student athlete and scholar, make him a uniquely suited leader to oversee the implementation of our athletics plan,” Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of A&M-San Antonio, said at a news conference on Jan. 15 at A&M-San Antonio.
Smith, a San Antonio native, played football for Taft High School in his junior and senior year. His father served in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years and raised Smith on Lackland Air Force Base.
Smith emphasized his appreciation for the culture and diversity of his hometown and said he is excited to work toward building the first intercollegiate athletics program in South Bexar County.
“I understand San Antonio, and San Antonio is my home,” Smith said.
Matson created an intercollegiate athletics director search committee in August. The search was narrowed down to five candidates introduced in December at individual forums open to students, faculty and staff who ask questions about each candidate’s qualifications and plans.
“The public forums are really important on a base level as a way to help keep the university informed,” said La-Tieka Sims, Student Government Association president and member of the search committee. “Having these forums gives the students, faculty and staff a chance to participate, to ask questions, to be informed and to voice their side as well.”
The second forum, on Dec. 12, allowed participants to ask Smith questions about his motivations and previous experiences relevant to the athletic director position.
During the conference, Smith expressed his excitement with working at A&M-San Antonio and with the Southside community.
“I get a family vibe, and that’s what I really appreciate about it,” Smith said of the university. “It has a lot of opportunities to grow and build that infrastructure.”
Smith has won several athletic awards, including second team honors from ESPN the Magazine’s Academic All-America team while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Economics at Oklahoma State University, according to a press release from A&M-San Antonio’s Marketing and Communications office. He later earned a master’s degree in natural and applied sciences from OSU. He is working toward a doctoral degree from the University of Oklahoma in adult and higher education with an emphasis on athletics.
At the University of Central Oklahoma, Smith managed the athletics program’s compliance with the NCAA. During this time he also served as the chairman of the Division II Ethnic Minority and Women’s Internship grant committee and as a deputy Title IX director for athletics.
Plans for an intercollegiate athletic program started last March when over 86% of students voted to approve an athletics fee that would increase tuition by $10 per credit hour, and in total, does not exceed $240 per academic year, according to a campus press release. The fee would, in part, fund personnel and facilities for the athletics program.
A&M-San Antonio is expected to compete in the Red River Athletics Conference, a subdivision of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics that covers much of Texas, starting in the fall semester. The program is set to start with men’s and women’s soccer, softball and men’s golf. After expected completion of an athletics center in 2022, the university will have the facilities needed to compete in men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
Although the facilities are to be used to expand the intercollegiate athletics program, they will also be available for recreational sports as well Matson said.
“Simply put, our facilities are going to benefit all students,” she said.
Smith said he will emphasize inclusion as a major initiative while serving as athletic director for A&M-San Antonio as it was his focus in previous positions.
“One of the missions of the university is ensuring that there is diversity and inclusion in its many ranks,” Smith said. “Our coaches understand that we are in the Southside of San Antonio, that we’re a Hispanic-serving institution” located in a very diverse community.
Matson said inclusion is not exclusive to racial and gender terms. The university is working to ensure that financially disadvantaged students who may want to participate in the athletics program have the ability to do so.
“We’re also focused on making sure through financial aid that our student athletes will have the best packages available,” Matson said. “We know they will be engaged in athletic competition and practice and that they may not be able to work. We want to help minimize that barrier.”
Smith is now tasked with leading the effort of implementing the program and hiring coaches. His annual salary will be $100,020 according to A&M-San Antonio public information officer John LoCurto.
“We look forward to starting the program this August 2020,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity that’s been given to us.”