Jason Verdugo, a past NCAA Division III Athletics Director of the Year, has been named the new athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Verdugo, associate vice president and director of athletics at Hamline University, a private liberal arts university in St. Paul, Minnesota, was introduced Thursday by Chancellor James Schmidt. A recording of the press conference is available here.
“Jason Verdugo has distinguished himself as an outstanding administrative leader at both the university and national levels,” says UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. “He understands the value of intercollegiate athletics, is committed to student-athletes’ success both in the classroom and in athletics, and wants to ensure UW-Eau Claire continues its long tradition of excellence.”
Verdugo replaces Dan Schumacher, who retired at the end of spring semester.
The prowess of UW-Eau Claire and its athletics history was attractive to Verdugo. The Blugolds have won 16 national championships in either NCAA or NAIA, including three titles during the 2021-22 academic year.
“When you have multiple national championships in several sports in recent years, that speaks volumes,” Verdugo says. “From a distance, having competed against them, this is a top-notch athletic department. I have aspirations to continue to build on the momentum that is in place.”
Verdugo has been actively involved nationally in NCAA athletics. He was the recipient of the 2019 National Association of College Directors of Athletics Division III Athletics Director of the Year Award and has been involved in multiple NCAA committees and work groups.
“Jason is a highly respected athletics administrator with vast experiences and a wealth of knowledge that will benefit the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire athletics department, campus and community,” says Louise McCleary, NCAA vice president of Division III. “Jason currently serves on the Division III Management Council, is a longtime mentor for the Division III Student Immersion Program and presenter for numerous NCAA professional development programs. His commitment to advancing others and providing leadership is exemplary.”
Verdugo grew up in a small mining town in Arizona. His father was a first-generation college graduate who saw coaching as an extension of his teaching profession; his mother worked in several capacities at an Arizona junior college. The importance of education was instilled in Verdugo and his brother, who was an outstanding athlete and later became an educator who was selected Arizona School Superintendent of the Year.
Verdugo followed in his brother’s footsteps and became a multisport Division I athlete at Arizona State University. In baseball, he was a pitcher on the 1994 team that played in the College World Series and after being drafted, played professionally in the San Francisco Giants minor league system for four years. In football at ASU, Verdugo was the backup quarterback to future NFL player Jake Plummer and a teammate of Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinal star who quit football after Sept. 11 to enlist in the military, where he was killed in Afghanistan.
Verdugo says he has the unique perspective as a former Division I athlete working in Division III athletics and brings a distinct perspective to the UW-Eau Claire position that is important to a university with a diverse athletics department and campus community.
“I’m really proud because there are not a lot of Latino or Mexican American athletic directors in the country,” Verdugo says. “I’m really fortunate I have the opportunity to do this.”
Verdugo was Hamline’s baseball coach from 2001-12, when he was promoted to athletic director. He is the winningest baseball coach in school history with more than 200 career victories.
Verdugo says he understands that UW-Eau Claire faces high-level competition in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and he welcomes that challenge.
“Having competed against them multiple times in multiple sports, including coaching baseball, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the conference,” Verdugo says. “It’s one of the finest Division III conferences in the country, and has some of the best athletes in the country, regardless of division. That, to me, is exciting and challenging at the same time.”