In what she’s done in his four-plus years as an athletic director in the northeast, Rachel Burleson can see her path aligned with Missouri Western’s.
The first of three finalists to interview for the job this week, Burleson met with community members, coaches and people from across campus Monday as she hopes to become the successor to Josh Looney in St. Joseph.
Having started up a Division-II football program, transitioned a women’s ice hockey team to Division I and seeing facilities undergo improvement projects, Burleson’s vision and hopes align with those of the Griffons.
She sees it even more knowing about the Griffons as a rival. Burleson was an assistant softball coach while earning her Master’s degree at Northwest Missouri State and was an associate athletic director at Missouri Southern before taking her first A.D. job in 2017 at Franklin Pierce in New Hampshire.
“Having been a competitor in the same league, having my respect for the MIAA and, from the outside looking in, knowing how much Missouri Western has to offer. I think there is a draw to being closer to home,” said Burleson, a Texas native who raised her family, which includes five kids, in Missouri. “I think college athletics in the midwest, specifically the MIAA, there’s no other place like it. There’s no place like this. From the get go, I knew it was the right one.”
She has also served as an assistant athletic director at Division II Western Colorado and Oklahoma Panhandle State in gameday, external and internal roles.
Burleson stressed letting team’s show their personalities and hammered home the point of classroom, community, competition and culture. And with the resources and structures in place at Missouri Western, she knows it’s a spot to accomplish her goals.
“The facilities are phenomenal. The partnership with the Kansas City Chiefs and that recruitment piece, there’s nowhere like that. It’s nice to have all the bells and whistles,” Burleson said, noting her university’s recent improvements to its multipurpose and baseball facilities.
Though Burleson is familiar with the midwest, an article from 2017 after her arrival in New Hampshire described her supposed desires to leave the region. She was quoted discussing the battles women face in athletic administration in the midwest and she needed to go somewhere “more open-minded” about being a female in power.
Burleson clarified her comments and expressed a surging interest to return to her roots, and the move was more so jumping at an opportunity.
“The article, I will say, was a little off what I said, which is fair. I did say I feel like I needed that experience,” Burleson said. “I know a lot of female athletics in the midwest, my mentors. There’s been some phenomenal athletic directors. For me, I didn’t want to wait. I knew I was ready. I knew I wanted to do it. I had an opportunity to go rather than having someone else decide my fate.”
Illinois State associate athletic director Dwight Merilatt will interview at noon Tuesday at the Fulkerson Center. The event is open to the public.