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MAZZUTO IS CSUN'S PICK NEW AD EMERGES NEAR END OF SEARCH.

Byline: RAMONA SHELBURNE Staff Writer

Rick Mazzuto was introduced as the new athletic director at Cal State Northridge on Thursday afternoon, bringing the university's year-long search to an end. Mazzuto signed a two-year contract that will pay him $150,000 a year.

Mazzuto comes to Northridge from Longwood University in Farmville, Va., a public school of about 4,350 students that is in the third year of a four-year transition from Division II to Division I. Before that, he was the athletic director at Saint Mary's College in Moraga for 11 years.

He was the most experienced of the three finalists for the job, but his hiring came as somewhat of a surprise because he was added to the group of three finalists last Monday, after another candidate, former Iowa State athletic director Bruce Van De Velde, pulled his name out of the running.

``This has really been a whirlwind,'' said Mazzuto, 56, who originally applied for the position in January but was not formally contacted by the university until about 2 1/2 weeks ago. ``I know the search has gone on for a while and I'm a late addition, but I'm very happy to be standing here today. ... I think we have a great opportunity to move the program forward in the coming years.''

Cal State Northridge president Dr. Jolene Koester immediately dressed Mazzuto in the school's colors, slapped a Matadors' hat on him and entrusted him with implementing the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission last March.

``I think we are at an historic time in terms of our entire intercollegiate athletics program,'' Koester said. ``Today's appointment, we believe, better positions this university to accomplish the objectives (of the Blue Ribbon Commission).''

Mazzuto was met with a favorable reception on Wednesday, including men's basketball coach Bobby Braswell, who said he liked Mazzuto's leadership style, commitment to upgrading facilities and ability to recognize the unique problems facing Northridge.

``I've met him twice through the interview process and am really excited about the things he's talked about,'' Braswell said. ``I think his experience is going to be the kind of experience that we need here to really get the areas we talked about in the Blue Ribbon Commission report implemented. I think he has a great demeanor and great understanding of what our department needs.''

However, several sources within the athletic department said that many coaches had favored interim athletic director Janet Lucas, who has guided the program since Aug. 1 of last year and was one of three finalists for the permanent job.

Lucas was in attendance at Thursday's press conference introducing Mazzuto and received a public thank-you and ovation from Koester.

``In a short time, we've come to respect and expect her knowledge and expertise,'' Koester said. ``She's helped move the athletic program in the direction we want to go and we very much look forward to her continued contributions.''

Earlier in the day, Lucas changed her title to Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Women's Administrator to avoid any awkwardness, even though Mazzuto will not be taking over until early September.

``I want what's best for Matador athletics,'' Lucas said. ``That's the most important thing. ... I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish. Everybody went above and beyond the call of duty not just to maintain what we were doing, but to make it better, raise the bar and improve the foundation for the future of Matador athletics.''

Mazzuto said that he hoped Lucas would stay on, based on the favorable comments he'd heard about her work from people in the administration and athletic departments. He also would appreciate the continuity her presence would add, considering the job vacancies within the athletic department.

``Obviously, that will be her decision, but I hope ultimately she'll want to stay,'' he said. ``I consistently heard praise about the good work she's done at Northridge. Not only do they like her on a personal basis, but they think she's really good at what she does.''

Mazzuto's colleagues at Longwood described him as affable and professional, having guided the school's transition to Division I smoothly. Longwood is in the process of renovating several of its facilities, including the softball and baseball fields. A new, $5.5 million multi-purpose facility for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey is opening this fall.

Mike Gillian, the men's basketball coach at Longwood, described Mazzuto as, ``a sports guy'' who will stick up for the interests of the athletic department and coaches.

Gillian was an assistant coach at George Mason -- which advanced to the Final Four this year -- and took the job at Longwood because he was impressed with Mazzuto's plans for upgrading the athletic department and guiding the Lancers into Division I.

Longwood went 1-30 in 2004-05, its first season playing against Division I opponents, but improved to 10-20 in 2005-06. Attendance at men's basketball games increased by 50 percent.

``Everything went exactly as he presented it,'' Gillian said. ``Even though George Mason went to the Final Four, I never once sat back and said, `I should've never left. Why did I come to Longwood?' And a lot of that is because of Rick Mazzuto.''

Mazzuto and his wife Janet said they intend to live within five miles of the Northridge campus to get a better feel for the campus culture. They have been married for four years, but have had a long-distance relationship while he's worked at Longwood.

Janet Mazzuto is a real estate manager for IBM, based out of San Francisco. Mazzuto said during his interview that a major factor in his decision to leave Longwood and look elsewhere for a job was so he could be closer to his wife. He was also a finalist for the athletic director position at Cal State Monterey Bay, but pulled out when he got the Northridge job.

ramona.shelburne@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3611

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(color) Rick Mazzuto will make $150,000 a year as CSUN's new athletic director.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 4, 2006
Words:1001
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