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SIU Athletic Director, Mario Moccia, gives the opening speech Jan. 31 during the SIU Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the SIU Arena in Carbondale.

CARBONDALE — Mario Moccia is heading back to his alma mater to become its new athletic director.

Moccia, SIU's athletic director since 2006, was introduced earlier today as the Aggies' new athletic director at a news conference in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Moccia is expected to start there on Jan. 5, 2015, and will make a base salary of $240,000 annually plus incentives, a far cry from the $165,000 salary he took at SIU when he started in 2006.

Moccia graduated from New Mexico State in 1989 and is a member of the school's Hall of Fame. Moccia was a two-time most valuable player for the baseball team and played professionally.

Moccia was a finalist for the Georgia State athletic director spot earlier this year and was pursued for the same job at Southern Mississippi last year. He is the last major department head left at SIU after former chancellor Rita Cheng left to become the president of Northern Arizona University and former SIU president Glenn Poshard retired.

"I've been blessed to work for great A.D.s as an assistant or head coach, and Mario is at the top of the list," SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson said in a statement earlier today. "I can't remember the last time I've seen an athletic director make such an impact at the mid-major level - whether in facilities, dealing with the community, or a working relationship with the coaches.

"Selfishly, I am saddened because he has been a wonderful boss and even better friend. I will forever be indebted to Mario Moccia for giving me the opportunity to teach and be involved in young people's lives again."

Interim chancellor Paul Sarvela, who took over for Cheng weeks ago, died unexpectedly earlier this year. SIU President Randy Dunn took over as the Carbondale campus's interim chancellor earlier this month and said in a statement that the school will look into naming an interim director in the next week and begin a national search.

Moccia oversaw the $83 million Saluki Way project that brought a renovated SIU Arena and new football stadium in 2010, as well as the construction of a new track and field complex and baseball stadium. Four years after he started, the annual athletic scholarship fund more than doubled to $1.3 million, and revenues for the school's two marquee sports, men's basketball and football, have sharply gone up.

"While I am disappointed to see Mario leave, I completely understand what a unique and fulfilling opportunity it will be for him to serve as athletics director at his alma mater," SIU football coach Dale Lennon said. "I will always be grateful for the privilege of working under his leadership, and his unwavering support of the Saluki football team."

SIU softball coach Kerri Blaylock, one of the longest-tenured head coaches in the department, wished Moccia well.

"I think it's an opportunity he can't pass up," she said. "He came in at Southern, and with the help of our donors, built some great buildings here. In this business, you understand that people have to come and go, and I want to thank Mario and wish him congratulations."

However, success by SIU's two marquee programs has been hard to find since their new facilities opened in 2010. The football team hasn't reached the postseason since 2009, and the men's basketball team hasn't had a winning record since 2008.

New Mexico State had 28,262 students in the fall semester last year and competes in 17 sports, including Football Bowl Subdivision football in the Sun Belt Conference. The Aggies' other 16 sports compete in the Western Athletic Conference with Bakersfield (California), Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Missouri-Kansas City, Seattle, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley.

Moccia is expected to meet with the local media here later this week.

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618-351-5087 / On Twitter: @THefferman


Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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