Feb. 17, 2011
Wren Baker Era begins at Northwest
By David Boyce
As Wren Baker tours various buildings and meets people at Northwest Missouri State over the next few weeks, expect to see a smile and hear an easy-going slight southern drawl.
Most importantly, you will see a face that is alert. Baker is excited to be the new director of athletics at Northwest and is ready to learn all that makes this Division II University so special.
"It would be hard to sum up how excited we are, but Heather and I are both very excited," Baker said of the move he and his wife are making from Claremore, Okla.
Baker officially started as athletic director on Tuesday. He attended an administrative meeting, got more familiar with his computer and stopped for lunch at the weekly media luncheon at the Student Union.
His likeability came through clearly when he made a second trip to the tray that had chocolate-covered rice krispie treats. He told a quick, amusing story to the servers about how much he likes those krispie treats.
All it takes is a few minutes with Baker to see his personable style. It will come in handy as he immerses himself in the Northwest community over the next few months.
"I think one of the special things about Maryville is the people," he said. "From the first time I was on campus, my wife and I commented that we felt at home. Whether you go to a restaurant or Wal-Mart or Hy-Vee, you see a lot of the same people. I think that's what is neat about a close-knit community."
Baker joins the Northwest staff in the middle of an academic year. Before his duties officially started he had to make a decision on the new football coach and figure in on the new football staff.
The elevation of Scott Bostwick to head coach has been seamless. Bostwick is thrilled with his staff and thankful that he was able to retain much of the staff from last season.
The real work for Baker begins now. He left a special situation for him and his wife at Rogers State
Baker is a native of Oklahoma. Early in his professional career he had the privilege of spending four years at Oklahoma State on Eddie Sutton's staff.
"It was a great opportunity for me," Baker said. "People assume you learn all basketball, but I learned more about handling yourself as a professional and as a head coach and administrator.
"Coach Sutton was so kind to people, writing people notes and recognizing the worker bees, the people who really hold things together. That part was really special. He still calls me once a month and asks how I'm doing. I have tremendous respect for him."
Baker took some of those lessons and applied them at Rogers State, a NAIA Division I school in Claremore. In 2006, Baker served as Roger State's first athletic director and men's basketball coach.
Rogers State enjoyed a lot of success on the basketball court in the first season. The team went 20-11 and missed the NAIA Division I tournament by one game. Some of the highlights included an 8-point loss at Oklahoma State and a 12-point loss at Oral Roberts.
Baker liked plenty of things that come with being a head coach. He enjoyed the daily interaction with the student-athletes and the instant gratification of a victory and hearing good game coach.
"As an athletic director, you have a periphery relationship with athletes but it's not the same as coaching when they come to you with their problems on a daily basis," Baker said. "You get to help mentor them.
"As an AD, you get to know the student-athlete and take pride in the success they have, but you really don't know as much about the personal adversity they face.
"When you get into administration you don't get that. When somebody calls you, they want something or they are complaining about something. That's an adjustment when you make that switch."
But it was a switch Baker knew was right for him. He realized he couldn't do both at Rogers State and do a great job. He chose administration.
"As I got into it, I loved coaching and we were successful our first year," he said. "But I just felt more at home and more comfortable as an administrator. I had great confidence in the decisions I made."
In his four years at Rogers State, the athletic program grew to 10 sports and the teams have won more than 70 percent of their games.
When Baker started at Rogers State he made a point of going to every building on campus and getting to know the people who worked there.
He plans to do the same at Northwest.
"When I was at Rogers State, I went to one building a week and just made sure I went through every nook and cranny of that building and met as many people as possible.
"To actually learn names takes three or four months. Usually, I'm pretty good with names. At Rogers State I prided myself on knowing names. When I came here I met so many people in a 24- to 48-hour period that I couldn't even remember faces.
"Now that I've been here a couple of times you start to put it all together. What I found is if you talk to people and connect with them it helps you remember a little bit."
Baker is coming in at a great time. The men's basketball team has won four straight games and the women's team has sole possession of first place in the MIAA.
In fact, the women's team is doing so well that they have a chance to play host to the NCAA South Central Regional. Of course, that's still too far away for the coach or the players to really look at.
"I'm not a coach anymore so I can look ahead," Baker said. "Mark Clements and I have talked about it the last couple of weeks. There is such a logjam. There are a number of teams that can host. Having the season they are having is very special. For the Maryville community, being able to host would be a feather in the cap."
Overall, Baker wants to see the football program maintain its success and try to elevate some of the other programs to the same level as the football team.
"We can look at what football has been able to do over a long period of time, very special success," he said. "There have been a lot of strong years in other programs. Men's basketball has had great years. Hopefully, we can look at the way the football program has been built and get a plan together to elevate our other sports to compete for conference championships.
"The good thing about the MIAA is if you are competing for conference championships you are a contender for a national championship. I would think that is the No. 1 goal."
Over the next six months or so, Baker has a lot to look forward to. He's never been an administrator at the college level for football so he can't wait until August and September.
But before the 2011 football season, Baker and his wife eagerly await another bundle of joy.
"My wife and I are expecting our first child. We are expecting a little girl on July 1," he said.
So it is easy to see why Baker has a lot to smile about. Being part of the Northwest campus is another big reason for Baker to be so happy.
"Rogers State is a great school and I loved it there, but we were heavily commuter based," he said. "I'm on a campus now with such a strong campus environment.
"I came up for a football game and it was such a special atmosphere. There are a lot of Division I programs that would love to have what Northwest Missouri State has."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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