In the second episode of season 2 of Sagebrushers, University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval hosts the athletic director of the Nevada Wolf Pack, Stephanie Rempe, for a conversation about her first months in the role and plans for the future of athletics at the University.
During the episode, Sandoval and Rempe, one of the country’s most respected athletics administrators, explore Rempe’s 25-year journey to becoming athletic director, her thoughts to improve the game day experience and her family’s love for the Reno community. Rempe also shares updates on the student-athlete facilities projects underway and the University’s new ski team. This episode of Sagebrushers was recorded in January 2023.
Sagebrushers – S2 Ep. 2 – Nevada Wolf Pack Athletic Director Stephanie Rempe
Join host President Brian Sandoval as he and the athletic director of the Nevada Wolf Pack, Stephanie Rempe, discuss Rempe’s 25-year journey to becoming athletic director, her thoughts to improve the game day experience, her family’s love for the Reno community and more!
Stephanie Rempe: I firmly believe and felt like I knew this right from when I got here, that it is critical for our teams and our coaches to get into the community. That’s what makes Nevada special and unique. I think the community expects that. I think there’s so much value from our student-athletes when they get out there. They are role models, so young kids everywhere, we want them to aspire to be part of the Wolf Pack, future student-athletes or just look up to our students.
President Brian Sandoval: In this episode of Sagebrushers, we welcome Stephanie Rempe, athletic director of the Nevada Wolf Pack. I’m Brian Sandoval. I’m a proud graduate and president of the University of Nevada, Reno, and I’m your host of Sagebrushers.
Stephanie is one of the country’s most respected athletics administrators. In her career spanning 25 years, she’s worked in senior leadership roles at five Division I athletics programs. Before joining the Wolf Pack family in the fall of 2022, she was the executive deputy director of athletics and the chief operating officer for Louisiana State University (LSU).
Stephanie has also worked in the athletic programs at Texas A & M, University of Washington, University of Oklahoma, UTEP [University of Texas, El Paso] and University of Arizona. She’s an alumna of the University of Arizona where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree and was a volleyball student-athlete.
Today’s podcast is being recorded at the Reynolds School of Journalism on our University’s campus. Stephanie, welcome to Sagebrushers. I’m very excited to have you on the podcast today.
Stephanie Rempe: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here.
President Brian Sandoval: Oh, we’re more thrilled to be here.
Stephanie Rempe: You know, I listened to this before I interviewed.
President Brian Sandoval: Oh, good.
Stephanie Rempe: Yeah.
President Brian Sandoval: Good, good. So, let’s start with this. You have said before that your journey to become an athletics director started more than 25 years ago. How was that journey to get here?
Stephanie Rempe: If I had tried to plan it out at a young age, I couldn’t have predicted that it would’ve gone the way it has. I still remember doing my exit interview my senior year. After my last season at Arizona, I met and interviewed with Jim Livengood, who actually is familiar in this part of the country, and told him someday that I wanted to be an athletic director.
Obviously from there, I went to different schools and it always has been about the job and the opportunity, investing in the school where I was, it was never about the next opportunity. When I was at LSU, this opportunity came about and here I am.
President Brian Sandoval: So, somehow this came to your attention. And so, University of Nevada, what was it?
Stephanie Rempe: I would say, you know, when I was at UTEP, we were in the same league and I remember Coach Alt when he was here, Cindy Fox was here and obviously Reno and knowing it’s on the West Coast, which is important to me.
When I was at LSU, the job came open and we were aware of it, but really not paying attention until I got a phone call. The phone call was, “It is a great opportunity and there’s an unbelievable president there and you should really look at it.” And that’s exactly why I did, and obviously, that’s a very significant part of why I took the job – because of you.
President Brian Sandoval: Oh, well, thank you. So, you know, obviously, you have a family and they have to be consulted with. So how did that conversation go?
Stephanie Rempe: That’s a great question. So, Greg, my husband, has always been on board with all of these moves, leading the charge probably on all of it, so he was on board immediately. I still remember talking to somebody about the job and having the person on speaker and Greg could hear all the parts and so much of it was about you and your leadership.
Then anyway, we went through the process and didn’t involve the kids until we already had said yes. They’re in fourth and sixth grade. So, it was the summertime and they were going into fourth and sixth grade, and it was mixed emotions for them, but they were super excited for me and for us. I think once we got them here, they’ve been totally on board and excited. They of course miss their friends, but they’re loving it here for all kinds of reasons.
President Brian Sandoval: I wish we had more time and we’d talk more about that, but there’s work to do here, right? I mean, I think everybody understands and acknowledges that we are very proud of this University and what we’ve accomplished.
But, now that you’re settling in, what are some of the high-level plans that you have for Nevada Athletics?
Stephanie Rempe: Some of the best parts about this job, right, is the people and in the community, you feel like people want us to be successful. I mean you just feel it. Everybody you talk to wants the Wolf Pack to be successful, so that feels great. The University support is fantastic. We’ve already talked about your support of athletics. We have great coaches on our staff.
Some of the things we need to do are really the foundation of a department, making sure we get the right staff. I feel like we have amazing team that we’ve put together and we have great coaches, so now how do we build upon that?
We need a foundation that is consistent, that is stable, that everybody understands what they need to do to be effective. We need to upgrade some facilities and a lot of those have started, which we’re really excited about. We need to make sure we have a great game day experience across the board.
So, I continue to put it in three buckets. One, we need to sell the tickets to get people there. Then, when they come, they need to have a great experience. The third bucket is we need to perform well on the field, court, whatever it is. So, all of those things are important, and I think we’re working on all of them.
President Brian Sandoval: What would you say, what can we do to improve that game day experience? We have an awesome basketball team. I think our football team’s going to be fabulous. What are some of the things you think we could do?
Stephanie Rempe: Well, I always say “driveway to driveway.” So, you want people to leave their driveway and have a good experience getting to the stadium. It’s getting in. it’s finding parking. It’s once you’re at your parking, whether you have a good experience with a tailgate, that all of that is accessible and it’s not difficult.
Then from there, when you go to the game, you have to be able to get in. You don’t want to wait in line; you don’t want to have problems with tickets and all of that. So, then you come in and when you’re sitting in your seats, you’re having a good experience – your hotdogs are hot, and your popcorn is fresh and all of that.
Then when you watch the game, besides obviously on the field or the court, you want to make sure that you can hear the announcer; you can see the video board; you can interact with people that are having in-game activations. Your sponsors have to have a positive experience from that perspective.
And then obviously, the performance on the field and you need to be able to get home. You want to be able to get out into your car and get on the road and get home in a reasonable fashion. You want to be able to listen to the radio on your way home, all of those types of things.
So, it’s start to finish. We need to make sure our suites are kept up. We need to make sure our security is strong, so that people know where they can and can’t go. Our people need to feel like they’re welcome, to want people to feel like that we’re all happy they’re there.
President Brian Sandoval: Shifting gears a little bit, we had Coach Wilson on the podcast a few months ago, but one of the things he talked about was getting his players involved in the community, and I know it’s not just the football team. There are many teams, so, will you talk a little bit about that involvement in the community and what it means to the players?
Stephanie Rempe: Yeah. So, I firmly believe and felt like I knew this right from when I got here, that it is critical for our teams and our coaches to get into the community. That’s what makes Nevada special and unique. I think the community expects that. I think there’s so much value from our student-athletes when they get out there. They are role models, so young kids everywhere, we want them to aspire. So, getting out in the community through a variety of measures and we do that pretty darn well.
Our football team led the charge. On all of our away trips, the kids that didn’t travel on Fridays before football games, they would go out into the community. Virgil Greene was leading that effort and he just does an amazing job of supporting this community. So, all of our sports are needing to do that.
We work with Redfield Foundation; Jerry Smith does a great job; it’s really important to him as well. So, we are putting in measures to ensure that each of our sports are doing that. We have won the community service award I think five out of seven years through the conference for a number of community service hours.
So, it’s important to us, and I think the community feels it. It’s really important for our student-athletes to understand that that’s part of being a member of the Wolf Pack, as you give back to the community.
President Brian Sandoval: No and as I like to call it The Wolf Pack Way. So, again shifting gears, so a lot of people out in the community are curious about the facilities and you know, for me, Title IX is a real priority in upgrading our female student-athletes’ facilities, but I know there are big plans otherwise. So, do you want to talk about it?
Stephanie Rempe: Yeah. So, all of this is under the umbrella of needing to fundraise for all of these projects. But I think the University did a remarkable job of getting things up and off the ground and going. So, our swim and dive locker room is almost complete. Graphics are up. But that has been a fantastic commitment to our women’s swim dive program. So, that was done.
Softball is underway. It was supposed to be done in December, but the weather has just not been in our favor. But that was phase one of three phases for softball that is critical to their success. It’s a new field and some infrastructure that costs about $2.8 million and we need to fundraise for that. We need to go out and figure out how we’re going to pay for that.
Our locker room for football, track and field and soccer is underway now. That will be done in May. We need about $3 million more to raise for that and then our football weight room project is underway. It should be done at the end of spring break and that’s a million-dollar project and we have to fundraise for that.
The big one that’s been on the books for a little while is our basketball locker room. So, it’s in between [Ramon] Sessions [Performance Center] and Lawlor. It’s a locker room facility for men’s and women’s basketball that’s going to cost about $12 million. So, we have $4 million more that we need to raise for that. We are going to find out the guaranteed maximum price in February and be able to get some really hard numbers on how that’s going to go forward and then hopefully get it underway this summer.
President Brian Sandoval: No and it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to that. So, we have a new team on campus, I guess a new, old team. So, historically the University of Nevada has been famous for its intercollegiate skiing program and the student-athletes that evolved out of that and we now have a new ski team. Do you want to chat about that?
Stephanie Rempe: So, I have not been around skiing my entire career, and it has been a learning process for me. I will tell you, the ski community in northern Nevada is remarkable, right?
David Wise just won his X-Games gold medal a couple of days ago. The ski community has been incredibly supportive of the announcement of our ski program. They are kind of leading the charge knowing that we want to win championships in skiing, and they know that and they know there’s a cost to that. We have an alpine program right now, which is from Sierra Nevada University. We want to add Nordic at some point because you need to have both programs to be able to win championships.
So, we have the ski coach who was with Sierra Nevada University. She is outstanding. She’s so fun, she’s so excited about it. Her athletes, men’s and women’s, are excited to be part of the Wolf Pack. They’re all out and about. You’ve seen the vans; they all have their Nevada ski gear. So, we’re continuing to support that program, learn more about it. I’m actually going to Colorado with them to watch a ski competition because I’ve never done that and go with some of the ski boosters. So, we’re going to be able to make sure we understand what we’re trying to accomplish here.
But super excited about the direction of that program and again, it’s one of those things that we also need to continue to generate money to help support it.
President Brian Sandoval: Speaking of the ski community, I’m grateful, I mean we obviously have some of the best skiing on planet Earth and many of our ski resorts have wanted to get involved. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Stephanie Rempe: Yeah. Every ski resort has their doors open to our program. It’s really neat to know how much they are supportive of our program. Our team continues to train at them. They’ve been training at Sky Tavern for a couple of different reasons, as the snow goes about. And there’s been so much snow and again, this is a little over my skis. Just understanding what kind of slope, what kind of fresh snow, how hard it is on the base, you know, all those different things.
So, they’ve been going around trying to figure out the best places for them to train, but they’re loving it and the best is how welcoming the whole ski community has been to our program.
President Brian Sandoval: Now again, you’re six months into your new position. So, what are some of your impressions and observations? You know, the campus is it different than what you expected? The history? I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.
Stephanie Rempe: I feel like I learn every day, something new. Whether you talked to somebody else, yesterday I met with Steve Maples, the director of admissions, and talking to him about his kids, he wanted to work at a school where he wants his kids to go.
I actually had the same reaction I was talking to him about that, I would love for Riley and Ryan to go to the University of Nevada. It is a beautiful campus. Obviously, it’s a beautiful community. So, impressions knowing that it’s 150 years (in a year, year and a half) old is really neat. Then what everybody says, it’s this gem that people don’t realize. Steve was talking about the statistic I originally heard from you that the kids that are admitted that come on the Nevada Bound program, if they come on our campus, the conversion rate is over 70%.
The fact that we have high retention rate from freshman to sophomores; there’s all these things and that’s because it’s such a wonderful University and the campus is so beautiful. Obviously, we’re doing amazing things to help educate them, make sure this student experience is great.
I feel like the campus is supportive of athletics. We want to be part of this institution. We want to invest in the different things that are across campus. So, the campus community is just, it’s the people are wonderful, the school is beautiful, feel like the academics are strong.
We want to do our part. Successful athletics I believe helps everybody and then the Reno community is amazing. I always say this, [but] I have never moved anywhere where every single person that I meet bar none loves living in Reno. That’s just not normal that everybody you talk to or meet loves living here and so we’re part of that too. I mean our whole family is loving it. Our dog is so happy. He would get so hot, that he would never go outside. Now, he loves playing in the snow. Yeah, so we’re all very happy.
President Brian Sandoval: And we have a couple new coaches. We have a new soccer coach and we have a new golf coach. Do you want to talk about our new coaches?
Stephanie Rempe: Yeah, that’s been fun. You know, I actually said at the baseball dinner the other night that there’s this myth that new athletic directors want their own coaches, and this just couldn’t be anything further from the truth. You want to have great coaches, you never want to have to go out and do a search, but when you do, it’s one of the most fun parts of the job.
I think before I even started we had a baseball job that came open, so, we hired Jake McKinley, who is off the charts. I wish he had been at the Dolan dinner to listen to him talk about his vision and how much his players are just loving playing for him. Our poor golf coach is obviously experiencing all of this snow and trying to figure out how to get practices in, but Trey Carpenter, he’s done a great job. He’s immersed himself in this community. He’s connected with all of our former golfers.
Then Vanessa Valentine, our new soccer coach, just started a few weeks ago. She’s doing a fantastic job. She has one staff member. She now has both of her coaches, just last week she named her second assistant coach. So, she’s doing a great job and she’s learning the way.
I think I’ve said this to a lot of people when, when we announced Vanessa to the team and the team, there were people on Zoom and then some of the women were still on campus and this is in December, the way she talked to the players and the way they responded to her was one of the best unveilings of a new coach with the current team that I’ve ever seen. They were so engaged and so happy listening to everything she was saying for how she’s going to run a program. So, I think that’s really exciting too and she gets out there and competes and trains and works out with them. It’s pretty remarkable when it comes to that.
President Brian Sandoval: So, we’re almost out of time, but what would you tell our listeners about the athletic program and what they have to look forward to when they come to campus to watch a game?
Stephanie Rempe: Okay, I love that. We are trying to do our part to make sure that the experience is good, but I continue to say to our staff, our actions have to speak so, so loud that you can’t hear what we’re saying. So, instead of talking about all the things we’re trying to do, we want people to come and we want to demonstrate that we are going to create a good game day experience and that they are going to have a good time.
Come and meet our student-athletes, they’re fantastic. I mean, everybody’s talking about our men’s basketball team, the success they’re having. The reason people like watching them is because they play as a team. They’re good kids. They seem like they’re enjoying themselves, they’re playing hard. That’s what our teams do and we want people to come out and get to know our kids and come out and support them and have a good experience and know that they’re supporting the Wolf Pack, which is the team in Northern Nevada.
President Brian Sandoval: Yeah, we love our Wolf Pack. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for this episode of Sagebrushers. Thank you for joining us today, Stephanie. Really a privilege and honor to, to have you here. You’re doing a wonderful job.
So, next time we will bring you another episode of Sagebrushers and continue to tell the stories that make our University special and unique. Until then, I am University President Brian Sandoval and go Pack.