GRAND FORKS, N.D. — University of North Dakota athletic director Tom Buning was placed on an indefinite leave of absence Monday at his own request.
Phil Harmeson, UND’s vice president of general administration who oversees the athletic department, could not say when or if Buning would resume his duties. He also said that under State Board of Higher Education policy, he could not discuss the reasons for the leave of absence.
Harmeson issued a brief memo to the athletic department staff which read, in part: “Athletic Director, Tom Buning, has requested a leave of absence from the University of North Dakota effective immediately. During that absence a plan will be announced shortly to reallocate his duties and responsibilities.”
In recent months, Buning came under fire for his handling of athletics at UND. Among the criticisms were contract negotiations with Fighting Sioux men’s hockey coach Dave Hakstol and the hiring of women’s hockey coach Brian Idalski.
Although Hakstol, who took UND to three straight Frozen Fours in his first three years as head coach, signed a five-year contract earlier this month, it wasn’t before concerns were expressed about negotiations dragging on too long and then bogging down.
Idalski, a former assistant women’s hockey coach at St. Cloud State and head coach at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, was hired last April. Some UND fans expressed disappointment that one applicant — former Sioux player Steve Johnson, who was then coach of the USHL’s Lincoln Stars — wasn’t hired instead.
Among Buning’s accomplishments was his role in starting UND’s transition from NCAA Division II (in all sports but hockey) to Division I beginning next year and bringing the athletic department’s budget under control.
Buning, 47, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was hired as UND’s athletic director in May 2005. Before that, he served as associate athletic director at West Point. He served overseas and is a decorated combat veteran.