After nearly two years spent rebuilding a program in upheaval, Binghamton University Interim Athletic Director Jim Norris announced today that he plans to retire at the end of the fall 2011 semester.

Norris, who turns 55 in October, made the official announcement at a press conference Tuesday. He was joined by President C. Peter Magrath, who said that a national search process for a new athletic director would begin within a few days, with the plan being to select a new person for the position before the end of the summer. Norris says he will assist in the search process.

Norris said he is proud of what he has accomplished in his time at Binghamton.

“From my perspective, our department is in a much better place than the day I arrived here almost 20 years ago,” he said, adding that “it’s certainly in a much better place than the day I assumed the interim leadership role two years ago.”

In September 2009, Norris was promoted from senior associate athletic director to interim athletic director after the resignation of former athletic director Joel Thirer. Norris took the reigns of a program that was in the midst of scandal, as six players were kicked off the men’s basketball team for various infractions, including the selling of cocaine and debit card fraud. An external audit would later reveal preferential treatment given to members of the team at the behest of school administrators.

Since then, Norris has attempted to rebrand the Binghamton athletics program as a group of responsible student-athletes who value academics and integrity over athletics. He developed the theme “Making an Impact” as a guide for student-athletes to follow.

Magrath was effusive in his praise of the work Norris has done.

“I can say, point blank, I have never worked with an athletic director who was as good and effective and strong as Jim Norris,” Magrath said. “He is among the very best … [Our programs are] stronger and better because of what Jim Norris did, and how he provided calm, steady, reassuring leadership.”

Norris said he had initially planned to retire at the end of this summer, but with the uncertainty regarding the future of the University, he thought about staying for another academic year. However, after hearing that Magrath would be leaving at the end of the fall 2011 semester, Norris decided to follow suit. Had Magrath decided to stay on longer, Norris said he likely would have stayed longer as well.

Neither Norris nor Magrath believed that there would be any difficulty recruiting a new athletic director and are confident a new athletic director will be in place by the time Norris retires.

“There’s only 450 Division I athletic director jobs out there, and a lot of people would like those jobs,” Norris said. “We’re a great department … we have a great coaching staff, we have great facilities, a lot of positive things happening. There will be a lot of people that will want this job.”

Norris said that once he retires, he intends to “catch [his] breath” and spend time with family and friends, including attending his nephews’ athletic events. Eventually he plans to return to coaching, possibly on the high school level. Overall, he said he wants to use the opportunity to give back to others.

“In other words, he’s going to fail retirement,” Magrath quipped.