Whether delivering the good news — like Friday’s hiring of former Sacramento Kings player Jim Les as UC Davis’ new men’s basketball coach — or the bad news — the university’s gut-wrenching decision to drop four sports last April — Greg Warzecka has been the face of Aggie athletics for the past 16 years.
On Tuesday, Warzecka, 60, made another kind of announcement.
The UCD director of athletics, who has overseen the Aggies’ transformation from a nonscholarship NCAA Division II athletics program to a Division I program with a nearly $20 million annual budget, announced that he will retire from the university on June 30 after 16 years in the post.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Fred Wood has appointed Nona Richardson as interim director of athletics, effective July 1, while a nationwide search is conducted for Warzecka’s successor. Richardson serves as executive senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator.
“After serving the university for 16 years as athletics director and having been in college athletics for 34 years, I feel the time is right,” Warzecka said in a news release. “The last 16 years have been a very rewarding experience and I feel good about the progress the intercollegiate athletics program has made.
“While there have been many challenges, we’ve also enjoyed tremendous success, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it,” he added. “I’m excited for the future of UC Davis athletics and I look forward to following the Aggies for many years to come.”
Warzecka’s service to the Aggies has been marked by notable changes in the athletics program’s history. He joined UCD in 1995 and has overseen two conference affiliation changes, more than $40 million in facility expansions and renovations, and an athletics grant-in-aid budget that awards more than $6 million per year.
Warzecka also led the Aggie program from powerhouse status at the D-II level, where it garnered six Directors’ Cups in eight years as the most successful athletics program in the country at that level, to a new life at D-I, where the Aggies already have established themselves as an elite program in the Big West Conference.
“Greg’s leadership in intercollegiate athletics has led to many achievements and distinctions,” said Chancellor Linda Katehi. “His commitment to UC Davis has been extraordinary and has built a solid foundation for an exciting future in athletics.”
Progress has been constant for the intercollegiate athletics program under Warzecka’s leadership. He quickly set that course by engaging discussion at the university regarding the addition of athletics grants-in-aid, which had never been offered at UCD.
The program began offering modest grants in 1998, the same year it moved from the Northern California Athletic Conference to the powerful California Collegiate Athletic Association.
After the Facilities and Campus Enhancement Initiative was passed by undergraduate students in 1999, Warzecka oversaw more than $40 million in facility construction and renovations, as well as additional fundraising.
The construction and renovations included completion of the Schaal Aquatics Center, which hosted the 2006 NCAA collegiate women’s water polo championship, and building of Aggie Stadium, the nearly 11,000-seat home of the Aggie football, women’s lacrosse and field hockey programs, which opened in 2007.
Fundraising for the Marya Welch Tennis Center, which features six championship courts and other amenities, also occurred during his tenure. The center opened in 2005.
The addition of women’s golf in 2005, and the re-introduction of women’s field hockey in 2009, helped highlight a continuing commitment by UCD to Title IX during his service. Warzecka also oversaw the addition of women’s rowing, lacrosse and water polo, which began competition during the 1996-97 athletics year.
Rowing, however, became an unfortunate casualty of budget problems as the university was forced to eliminate the sport, as well as wrestling, men’s swimming and men’s indoor track and field. The plan saved enough money to balance the athletics department’s budget, while also keeping UCD compliant with Title IX.
Under Warzecka, UCD’s commitment to Title IX helped earned recognition from Sports Illustrated For Women; the magazine named UCD the top D-II school for female athletes in 1999 and 2000.
Further acknowledgement came from Sports Illustrated in 2001-02, when editors selected the university as the top D-II school.
Warzecka’s defining accomplishment as athletic director, however, began in 2003 when students passed the Campus Expansion Initiative that provided funding to support a move to D-I. By that time, Warzecka and the university had already secured an invitation to join the Big West Conference. The campus later launched a four-year reclassification to its new status.
“Greg’s efforts helping navigate UC Davis from an outstanding Division II program to a rising Division I program were exemplary,” Wood said. “Recently, his work has been particularly challenging because of the budget crisis, but through it all he has always made the well-being of student-athletes his highest priority.”
The Aggies have achieved success during their short tenure in the Big West, winning 11 regular-season or conference tournament titles. Several teams also have been represented at the NCAA championships, notably men’s soccer, baseball and women’s golf, which earned at-large bids in the program’s first year at the D-I level.
Women’s basketball provided one of the many highlights this year, earning its first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament in March. Women’s golf will be participating in the NCAA finals next week.
Recently, Warzecka helped lead the UCD football program in a move to the Big Sky Conference, considered one of the elite Football Championship Subdivision conferences. The Aggies’ membership in the Big Sky will begin in 2012.
Individual distinction for Warzecka came in 2001-02 when he was named the A.D. of the Year for the D-II West Region by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Prior to coming to UCD, Warzecka served as the director of athletics at the University of Redlands, as the men’s athletics director at the University of Chicago, and as assistant baseball coach at his alma mater, UC Berkeley. He also was the head baseball coach at San Francisco State and the University of Chicago.
Warzecka earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from UC Berkeley in 1975 and a master’s degree with an emphasis in athletics administration from Cal State Hayward in 1983.