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Murray State University names former Racer student-athlete as new athletics director

Murray State athletics director Nico Yantko during his welcoming event at CFSB Center
Mason Galemore
Incoming Murray State University athletics director Nico Yantko speaks during a welcoming event at the CFSB Center on campus on Aug. 16.

This story has been edited.

The Murray State University athletics program has a new captain – Nico Yantko.

Yantko was tapped as MSU’s athletics director in a release Monday and introduced at a public event at the CFSB Center on campus Tuesday.

“Thank you for bringing us home. This is a dream come true,” Yantko said. “To be named athletic director at Murray State is certainly something incredibly special. This opportunity is humbling, to say the least, considering how much this institution means to me and my family. Murray State is built on relationships and with every special moment we share together we're going to continue to build that tradition of excellence.”

The 35-year-old is a Murray State alumnus and former Racer student-athlete. He graduated from MSU in 2009 – earning his undergrad degree at Murray State in integrated studies, business and communications – after playing on the Racers football team as a quarterback. He would later earn a Master’s degree in human development and leadership, public administration from Murray State in 2020.

Nico Yantko football athletics director
Murray State Athletics
Murray State athletics director Nico Yantko on the field during his student-athlete days as a quarterback for the Racers football team.

MSU president Bob Jackson said the search process to fill the athletics director position – which was vacated by Kevin Saal after he was hired by Wichita State University in June – started just 27 days prior to the announcement of Yantko’s hiring.

“I've had the opportunity to interview and hire a number of individuals in my career. And Nico is one of the most passionate, hard working, visionary athletic administrators that I know,” Jackson said during Yantko’s introduction. “He will bring that passion and energy here as we move to the next level and advance all of our programs.”

After graduating, Yantko worked for the football program as a graduate assistant before moving into athletics external operations. He would then go on to work at North Carolina State University with the Wolfpack Club and as a marketing and sales assistant in 2011.

Yantko then spent nearly seven years at the University of Missouri in the areas of development, capital campaigns & major gifts before going to the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, where he served for six years as the deputy director of athletics. In that role, he managed the Ragin’ Cajuns external departments and operations, along with a $35 million budget that impacted 450 student-athletes, 16 sport programs, 205 department employees and eight athletics venues.

Yantko said he and his family – his wife Marnie and daughter Cheney – will go back to Louisiana to “make sure [they] leave it the right way” before making the move to Murray, which they hope to do by the start of Racer football season.

“We're chomping at the bit to get back here. So my plan is to arrive, at the latest, by early September, to make sure we're here boots on the ground ready to roll for the start of football season,” he said. “And then from there, it's off to the races.”

Yantko will be the 10th athletics director in the school’s history. He’ll take the reins from Matt Kelly, the senior associate athletics director for MSU who filled the role in the interim.

His appointment comes as the Racers begin their first year in the Missouri Valley Conference and prepare to join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2023.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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