Since Wren Baker, 44, came to WVU from the University of North Texas in December 2022, he has helped hire Mark Kellogg as the new women’s basketball coach, while also evaluating the current staffing situations across all sports.
Add to that laundry list of tasks, he’s also a fundraiser, juggling the Mountaineer Athletic Club and the Country Roads Trust as an NIL collective for the Athletic Department. Facility upgrades and renovations, as well as other projects, require the financial support Baker publicly seeks.
All of that is part of his normal day at WVU, but despite nearly 20 years in college athletics, Baker still labels himself as an educator.
“Even today, when I file my taxes, I list my profession as educator,” he said. “I’m doing it in a different path than teaching in a classroom, but I’ve always felt like I was being called to be an educator.”
WVU Athletic Director Wren Baker
A father of two young daughters, he is around youthful energy all the time. Before entering a full-time gig in college athletics, he was a public school principal and coach in his hometown of Valliant, Oklahoma — the path Baker thought he would take long before college athletics was a possibility.
“That’s where I always thought I would be, a public educator and a coach in the public schools,” Baker said. “I thought maybe I’d eventually become an AD and then a superintendent.”
But with the boom of computer technology and the internet in the 1990s, he majored in computer science through his first two years at Southeastern Oklahoma State University where he was a first-generation college student with academic scholarships. As part of the honors college there, he helped conduct interviews for prospective students, and it was one sit-down with high school student that changed Baker’s personal trajectory.
“A faculty member asked this young lady what she wanted to do, and she talked passionately about really wanting to be a teacher, but looking at the money and talking to her parents, teachers don’t make a lot and she was going to major in finance,” Baker recalled. “This faculty member went at her a little bit and said if teaching is your passion, we need passionate educators. You need to be a teacher.
“I don’t know what impact that had on her, but it really resonated with me. Do I really want to program computers all day? Is that a passion of mine? The answer was no. Over the course of time, I decided I wanted to go into education.”
While at Southeastern Oklahoma State, Baker took a theories of basketball class, taught by the men’s basketball coach. Using his experience as a coach and his desire to receive a master’s to pursue his goal of becoming a superintendent, Baker joined the Oklahoma State Men’s Basketball Program as a graduate assistant under head coach Eddie Sutton.
While at OSU, Baker taught several courses in health and human performance and enjoyed himself, but he also liked his GA role with college athletics. So what was next — continue in athletics or make the move to education?
A persistent high school student council advisor, now a superintendent, provided the answer.
“She said, ‘Hey, you are a great role model for our kids back here. You’ve gone on and done some impressive things. We want you to come back and be a principal.’ I told her I just wasn’t ready to come home. I was engaged and about to be married. And she called back four or five times, and on the fifth time, gave me a pretty compelling argument. I thought maybe this is where I’m being called to be and became principal at 26-years-old, which I believe is still the youngest in Oklahoma history.”
Not long after, though, Baker accepted an offer to become the first athletic director at Rogers State University, beginning a now 17-year career in college athletics, spanning five universities before landing at WVU.
While he interacts with student-athletes — watching practices, one-on-one meetings and events around campus — Baker still feels that desire to teach.
“It’s just something I felt like I was born to do,” he said.
In May, a group of excited third- and fourth-graders at Blackshere Elementary School in Mannington were ready to listen to WVU President E. Gordon Gee, football player Tomas Rimac and Wren Baker provide insight on leadership.
It was clear Baker had plenty of experience working with kids, communicating at a level they could understand, with an emphasis on leadership as WVU’s top administrator in the Athletics Department.
“What does leadership mean to you guys?” he asked. “Well to me, it means trying to do the right thing, even when things are hard. People will look to you to make those tough decisions.”