Q&A: Sac State’s Athletic Director ready to rebuild

Two head coaches have left Sac State after winning championships over the past year.


Jack Freeman

Sac State’s Athletic Director Mark Orr answers questions about the hiring process for new coaches and about rebuilding athletic programs. Orr has had to replace two Sac State coaches since November. (Photo courtesy of Sac State Athletics, Graphic created in Canva by Jack Freeman)

Myla Booth and Siany Harts

Sac State has lost two head coaches after winning championship seasons; now the task of finding the replacement coaches is up to Sac State’s Athletic Director Mark Orr. 

The State Hornet met with Orr to discuss the back-to-back search and hiring process and his determination to find the right fit for the Sac State women’s basketball program. He contrasted the hiring process between finding Troy Taylor’s successor, Andy Thompson versus Mark Campbell’s, Aaron Kallhoff.

Editor’s Note: Conversation was trimmed for brevity.

Question: What does the process look like when searching for potential head coaches?

Answer: You can do it internal which is my preference, where I have a search committee, a staff here on campus and they’ll work with me to go through applications. With the team, I try to get characteristics and qualities they’re looking for in the next head coach. Because of our success, I think I have a good intuition of what makes success at Sac State.

Q: Has that process been more challenging with Sac State’s high turnover in coaches recently?

A: That depends on the situation, where your program’s at. Our football program — and currently our women’s basketball program — are coming off champion seasons, so the coaches that were here left for other opportunities, but they left in really good standing. There’s an excitement around the programs, so in those cases the process is easier… An example with women’s basketball: in open search, within the first two days I had 50 applicant coaches who wanted to come to Sacramento.

Q: How can Sac State’s football program continue and maintain success without Coach Taylor?

A: We gotta hire the right people and, in Coach Taylor’s situation, Coach Taylor built this program. From the year before he came, we didn’t win a single conference game and in three years, we were undefeated [and] won the championship three straight years. He moved on and we were able to promote his assistant into the position and keep most of the coaching staff. The hope is … that we’ve done a good job of developing the assistant coaches before the head coaches move on; you just continue to promote from within and you keep the same culture, same values, same systems and hopefully that maintains competitive success. 

Q: What do you think about Campbell’s move to TCU after a winning championship season?

A: TCU is a Big 12 program; they pay their coaches close to a million a year. It’s a great opportunity for him and his family. Disappointing for us, but I’m very appreciative for what he’s done. 

Q: What about the rebuild of the women’s basketball team without Campbell and losing many players to the transfer portal?

 A: With basketball there’s only three assistants. If those assistants go, you almost have to start all over. Campbell has done a good job of this because the coaching community out there sees that you can be successful here at Sac State. [With] the success that we’ve had this year, it makes it a lot easier for me to hire the right coach to follow him. Some of that pressure is on me to make the right decision.

Q: How has the applicant pool been for the women’s basketball coach and have you somewhat narrowed the applicants down?

A: I want diversity in the applicant pool. When I say diversity, not just ethnic diversity, but gender as well for women’s basketball. We have very strong female applicants….You start whittling based on characteristics you’re looking for for your program…You go through the interviews [and] you try to determine if they align with what our university is. Sometimes it isn’t the coach with the prettiest résumé or the longest résumé [that is] necessarily the best fit for Sac State. We have a uniqueness as a campus as our community, you try to navigate all those things and get feedback from your stakeholders. Ultimately, part of my job is to make the best decision I like to think in most cases I get it right. 

Q: Could you expand on Sac State’s uniqueness as a campus?

A: I love our campus. Not just the physical part of campus, but our campus community and what Sacramento State’s about in terms of a family atmosphere, in terms of how President Nelsen has led our institution. This is beyond athletics and being a good coach who can fit within our campus culture and align that way. Ultimately for me, I have to trust that person. Our students deserve that; our student-athletes deserve that. When a parent trusts me and Sac State with their daughter or their son to play basketball, football, baseball, soccer whatever it may be, I take that very seriously. I always ultimately want to make sure that I hire coaches that I’d be okay with my sons’ playing for and trusting. Some of these student-athletes are coming from halfway across the world and are international student-athletes, and their connection to Sac State is this coach. I spend a lot of time when I’m interviewing just trying to get a feel [for their character] more than anything. Is this a good person that would represent our university and be good role models for student-athletes and mentor him or her the right way? And also care more about them than just as a basketball player or football player and build that lifelong relationship with them beyond Sac State.