The head of SDSU athletics for the past 18 years announced his retirement on Dec. 19.
Fred Oien, who has been with SDSU athletics in various positions since 1979 and has served as athletic director since 1990, will officially retire April 8. Oien is a 1972 graduate of SDSU and earned his master’s degree here in 1976.
Oien felt in order for the move to Division-I athletics to work, the athletic department needed continuity, and if the department was in a good position, someone else could take the program to a higher level.
“It would be tough enough to go into transition, as well to bring someone in,” Oien said. “We just felt that it was a good time for me to stay on to get through the transition. A promise I made to Dr. (Peggy Gordon) Miller as well as to Dr. (David) Chicoine is that we would get this process completed, and hopefully at the end of the day, the program is in great shape. It’s ready now to go onto its next level.”
Oien will be most remembered for his push for Jackrabbit athletics to make the jump from Division II to Division I.
“Fred has been a driver of the very successful Division-I move, despite all the challenges it presented,” Chicoine said in a release from SDSU. “His leadership was essential. Our athletic teams have competed for conference championships in many sports, and student athletes have participated in team and individual national competitions.”
Head football coach John Stiegelmeier echoed Chicoine, saying without Oien, SDSU would have never made the jump to D-I athletics. Stiegelmeier felt that one of toughest challenges for Oien was getting the coaches and members of the Athletic Department on board to make the move.
“Honestly, he had to do selling within these hallways before he could win the battles outside the hallways,” Stiegelmeier said. “We met weekly as this thing started, and I thought he did a great job of convincing the staff and then mentoring the staff in terms of what had to be done as we went into the deal.”
Oien agreed with Stiegelmeier that in order for it to be a successful move, the key first step was to get the people in the athletic department, as well as the Brookings community to support the move.
“Obviously we all had doubts,” Oien said “We probably had the most cohesive group of people in house, in the athletic department as well as real support through education of central administration, the deans, department heads, student association, alumni association and the foundation in our fan base. … We needed that support first before we officially decided to go forward.”
Both men’s basketball head coach Scott Nagy and Stiegelmeier said that while Oien pushed the people in the athletic department, he always had the interest of the student athletes in mind.
“He expected a lot, but his demands were for the betterment of the student athletes. That was his desire; there’s no question about that,” Nagy said.
The move came as a surprise to Stiegelmeier just because of how Oien went about his job; he did things quietly and did not want a lot of attention put on himself.
“I think it surprised a lot of people,” Stiegelmeier said. “He’s not a draw-attention-to-himself type of guy. ? I think that was represented in his approach to his job.”
Mylo Hellickson was appointed as acting athletic director on Jan. 9 and officially took over the duties as athletic director on Jan. 12. Hellickson has been a faculty athletic representative since 1977, was a member of the SDSU’s Division-I transition team and serves on the Intercollegiate Athletics Board at SDSU, as well as the chair of the Compliance Review Team.
Stiegelmeier said that Hellickson is a great choice to serve as the acting athletic director until a search for a new director is completed this summer.
“Mylo, he understands, he knows and has a feel for our athletic program,” Stiegelmeier said. “Instead of someone potentially coming in here and functioning in that role but really having to learn a bunch of stuff, Mylo knows our program. I don’t think the interim AD is going to make a bunch of tough decisions, but he’s going to be there to mentor and find out the answers.”
While most of the coaches felt that Oien pushed people beyond what Stiegelmeier “thought was appropriate at times,” they all liked working with him.
“Dr. Oien was a great leader for our department,” said Aaron Johnston, women’s basketball head coach. “He had a great understanding of the history of our athletic department and still provided a wonderful vision for our future. He was a driving force to help successfully transition athletics to the Division-I level. As a coach, I always appreciated the importance he placed on creating a positive student-athlete experience.”