Northwestern AD search: Former Wildcats Anucha Browne and Napoleon Harris III among the candidates

Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read

Northwestern is in the thick of the process of choosing an athletic director to replace Jim Phillips, having interviewed nearly a dozen candidates, according to a source.

The university appears to have cast a wide net, interviewing candidates with traditional college sports backgrounds and those with varied backgrounds who have links to Northwestern.

Washington State’s Pat Chun, California’s Jim Knowlton, Rice’s Joe Karlgaard, UNLV’s Desiree Reed-Francis and SMU’s Rick Hart have been interviewed, as previously reported. The San Jose Mercury-News reported Chun is not expected to be a candidate.

Anucha Browne, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year as a basketball player at Northwestern in the 1980s, also was interviewed, according to a source. Since 2017, she has worked as chief engagement officer for UNICEF USA after a lengthy career in sports executive roles.

Browne was vice president for women’s basketball championships for the NCAA from 2012 to 2017 after working as senior associate athletic director for marketing at the University of Buffalo and as senior vice president of marketing and business for the New York Knicks.

She was fired by the Knicks after six years and won a retaliation and sexual harassment lawsuit against then-general manager Isiah Thomas and team owner James Dolan.

Former Northwestern football standout Napoleon Harris III was interviewed as well. He has served as a state senator from Illinois’ 15th District since 2013.

After playing defensive end and linebacker at Northwestern from 1998 to 2001, Harris played seven seasons in the NFL for the then-Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs.

Northwestern also interviewed two internal candidates: deputy athletic directors Janna Blais and Mike Polisky.

Polisky joined the Wildcats in 2010 as deputy athletic director for external affairs and spent the last decade working in branding and strategy. He has been involved in ticket sales and service, marketing, corporate sponsorship, media and public relations, creative services, community relations, fan experience and merchandising.

Blais, who also began in Evanston in 2010, is serving as interim athletic director.

She leads Northwestern’s athletic department in compliance, academic services and student development, athletic training, sports performance and the NU for Life Program. She serves as the athletic department’s liaison at Big Ten and NCAA meetings.

Northwestern also is considering Nina King, Duke’s deputy athletic director for administration and legal affairs and chief of staff. She also served as chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee for the 2020-21 season.

King, who graduated from Notre Dame, worked as director of rules education at her alma mater from 2005 to 2008.

Phillips left Northwestern to become the ACC commissioner in February. He had led the department since 2008, overseeing the Wildcats’ rise in football, the men’s basketball program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance and the construction of multimillion-dollar facilities.