CARBONDALE — Matt Kupec will be SIU's interim athletic director, according to an email from the university Tuesday, as the Salukis conduct a national search to replace Liz Jarnigan.
The university has still never said whether Jarnigan resigned or was fired late Thursday night. Sources told The Southern Illinoisan on Thursday that SIU Chancellor Austin Lane let her go after two years on the job. Lane, the former president of Texas Southern University, started at SIU in July 2020.
The university released a statement from Lane to The Southern on Friday.
"Please join me in thanking Liz Jarnigan for her three years of service to SIU, the last two of which were as our athletic director," he said. "We appreciate Liz's work on Title IX and the competitive and academic successes of the students and programs under her watch. The university will launch a national search in the coming weeks to name a new athletic director for our outstanding student-athletes, coaches and staff. In the meantime, SIU will announce temporary leadership for the division in the near future. We wish Liz well in her future endeavors and are grateful for her dedication to Saluki Athletics."
As the CEO of the SIU Foundation, Kupec serves as the university's chief development officer and provides oversight and leadership for SIU's Forever SIU fundraising campaign. He plans to stay on in that position while serving as the interim athletic director. Kupec helped the foundation raise the original $75 million for the campaign, and upped the goal to $200 million. The foundation raised a record-setting $28.5 million in fiscal year 2020 (2019-20) before the coronavirus pandemic.
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Kupec, a former quarterback at the University of North Carolina, earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from North Carolina and a master's in educational administration from Hofstra University.
It is not clear if Kupec put SIU women's soccer coach Grant Williams on administrative leave Tuesday. Saluki assistant coach Taylor Brittingham, a former goalkeeper at South Carolina State, will fill in for Williams during his absence, the university told The Southern on Tuesday night. SIU (0-6-1) opens Missouri Valley Conference play Friday night at home against Missouri State (3-2-3). The university did not give a reason why Williams was placed on leave.
Kupec has worked with the athletic department before, as part of the Salukis Forever fundraising campaign unveiled last year. SIU unveiled a coordinated fundraising campaign with the athletic department and the SIU Foundation in February that is scheduled to run through June 2024. The university hopes to raise $25 million to help offset the losses of the 2020-21 season, which ran without fans in the stands due to the coronavirus.
"Saluki Athletics is the front door to SIU," Kupec said in a statement announcing the fundraising campaign. "Our teams spread awareness of our brand, which aids the university when recruiting potential students across the country. When the Salukis win, we all win."
Outside of keeping SIU's 17 sports afloat amidst more challenges from the pandemic, Kupec will likely be heavily involved in the Salukis' search for a new women's basketball coach.
Cindy Stein, one of three coaches in women's basketball history here to win 100 or more games, announced her intention to retire in July following the upcoming season. Stein's coached 24 years at the JUCO, Division II and Division I level, with 12 postseason appearances. Her 1998 club at Division II Emporia (Kansas) State lost in the NCAA Tournament championship game, and her Missouri squad in 2001 reached the Sweet 16.
On Twitter: @THefferman