BOZEMAN — A whirlwind day at Montana State began with Kyle Brennan backing out of the Bobcats’ athletic director job and ended with Leon Costello accepting it.
MSU moved quickly in an effort to extinguish any negative publicity when it was revealed Tuesday morning that Brennan, the deputy athletic director at Utah, had turned down the job after already being introduced last week at an on-campus rally as the next man in charge.
Costello’s hiring — it was described by MSU as an oral agreement — was announced Tuesday evening. He comes to the Bobcats from South Dakota State, where he has served as an associate athletic director.
“Everything happens for a reason and today the reason is Leon Costello,” Montana State president Waded Cruzado said in a statement. “Leon was a very strong candidate in our finalists pool and today he has shown his leadership, strength and commitment to Montana State University.”
Costello, will take over for outgoing athletic director Peter Fields. It was announced in February that Fields’ contract would not be renewed after 14 years leading the athletic department.
In a phone interview with The Billings Gazette, Costello said he was disappointed he wasn't hired initially, but he had no hesitation in taking the job when Cruzado called him with the news of Brennan's decision early Tuesday morning.
"Any time you go through an interview process like this, you have to think you're going to get it and imagine yourself there," he said. "When you get the news your not selected there's disappointment.
"When it happened this morning there was a state of shock and a surreal feeling. But we live in a crazy world and we work in a crazy business. Things like this happen. Was I surprised? For sure. But I'm more excited now than ever. We are 100 percent full-go."
Costello and Brennan were among five finalists for the job, along with Matt Whisenant from Wyoming, Christian Spears from Eastern Michigan and Cooper Jones from Arizona State.
The list of finalists was presented to MSU by the firm Parker Executive Search, which led the initial exploration to fill the vacancy. The university reportedly paid $60,000 for this service.
Costello said he expects to begin his duties as AD by mid-June. His contract will pay him $185,000 annually in base salary.
"Montana State is a special place with special people," Costello said. "It's got a great foundation and it's set up for success. Hopefully we can work together to expect great things but also to accomplish great things. I don't think it would be right to expect anything less."
Cruzado said Costello’s experience at South Dakota State, which like Montana State is a land-grant university, was instrumental in his hiring.
At SDSU, Costello oversaw everyday operations of the athletic department and managed the implementation of its five-year strategic plan.
With respect to fundraising, Colstello assisted in raising more than $57 million since 2012 for capital projects, including both the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex, which opened in the fall of 2014, and for Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, which opens this fall.
Costello managed the athletic marketing, broadcast services, development, sports information and ticket operations at SDSU, and served as the department liaison for Under Armour and Jackrabbit Sports Properties, a division of Learfield Sports.
Like Montana State, South Dakota State is a mid-major NCAA Division I institution which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Leon has an incredible track record of success in a land-grant institution,” Cruzado said. “He cares passionately about the student-athletes and is a collaborative leader who will inspire coaches, staff, alumni and fans.”
“Leon has been instrumental in bringing the community together to build athletic facilities that have strengthened the university’s mission. He has infused a sense of enthusiasm and hope in the future. We know he will do the same at Montana State University.”
Brennan was introduced as the Bobcats’ athletic director last Monday but had a change of heart.
In an email to The Billings Gazette, Brennan said he regretted putting Montana State in a bad situation but “realized I did not want to leave the University of Utah.”
That put Cruzado and MSU in a bind, which the president described in an email Tuesday morning as “extraordinarily rare and unfortunate.”
But it also opened the door for Costello, a Fairbank, Iowa, native who earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and sports science from Loras College in Dubuque in 1998. Costello played on the men’s basketball team at Loras.
He earned his Master’s degree in sports management from Western Illinois in 2002.
It was not indicated when Montana State would officially introduce Costello as its new athletic director.