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Interim athletic director Jeff O’Malley said the early months of 2022 should bring stability to the Thundering Herd’s athletics department on several levels.

HUNTINGTON — As Marshall University athletics turns the page from 2021 to 2022, it ends a chapter of transformation.

The decisions of 2021 will lead to the changes of 2022, but the details surrounding many of those changes remain to be seen.

Interim athletic director Jeff O’Malley said the early months of 2022 should bring stability to the Thundering Herd’s athletics department on several levels.

On Saturday, new Marshall President Brad Smith officially started his tenure as the leader of the university.

With Smith firmly in place now, other key decisions should start to come together quickly as Marshall athletics looks to move into its next phase.

“Part of the excitement comes in the change,” O’Malley said. “We have President Smith starting today, the AD search is ongoing and that process has started, so a lot of the excitement is going to come from a little bit of stability as well, and people beginning to put their visions forward and in motion, not only for the university but for the athletic department.”

One decision likely to be made over the next few weeks is whether Marshall will leave Conference USA for the Sun Belt Conference in time for the 2022-23 sports seasons.

“The Sun Belt move, we hope, is going to be a reality,” O’Malley said. “We’re still in some discussion about when that’s going to take place, but we should have a decision on that relatively soon. I know our fans are really looking forward to making that move and starting those rivalries back up again.

“We have to make a decision on Marshall’s end as far as what’s the right move for us to go forward,” O’Malley said. “If it’s going to be in ’23 or ’22, we’ll pivot and start what we need to make a move reality.”

O’Malley added that both the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA have been helpful in working through the different options moving forward.

“The Sun Belt’s been great and Conference USA’s been great,” O’Malley said. “It’s been good on both ends.”

One question that will be answered in the early portion of 2022 is whether O’Malley will be the one leading Marshall athletics into the Sun Belt.

O’Malley was named the interim athletic director in June and helped lay out the proposals and options for Marshall once realignment started, which ultimately led to Marshall University choosing to join the Sun Belt Conference.

With Smith now in place, the search for a permanent athletic director ramps up, with O’Malley and other candidates expected to be interviewed in the coming weeks.

“From my standpoint, the quicker the better for Marshall,” O’Malley said. “We’ve been in this position for a while and there’s been a lot to happen for Marshall and within college athletics in the last six months. If we can start to at least get some stability, I think everybody’s going to feel a little bit better about situations and moving forward.”

Interviews for the athletic director position are expected to run through January, with Smith expected to make his decision in February.

In addition to the pending decisions on joining the Sun Belt and the athletic director, one major focal point is the pending baseball stadium project, which saw delays due to COVID-19 and other subsequent issues.

O’Malley said the stadium project will be a keynote discussion that takes place with university officials as well as the city in 2022.

“I know it’s been a priority for President Smith,” O’Malley said of the baseball stadium project. “We’ve had discussions about it to get him up to speed on it. I don’t know what the timeline is with his first day being this week, but I know it’s at the forefront of his list to get this thing going.

“I think everybody would like to see that. It’s been a long time coming, and I think people really want to see this thing become a reality.”

Whether organization decisions or those on enhancement projects, 2022 is shaping up to be a year that will mold Marshall athletics for years to come.

“It’s a very exciting time for Marshall,” O’Malley said.

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch and covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.