WSU athletic director Jim Sterk is expected to accept the AD job at San Diego State in the next few days, according to a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Jim Sterk, 53, athletic director at Washington State for almost 10 years, will be hired shortly at San Diego State, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Sterk apparently is a surprise choice at the Mountain West Conference school. The newspaper said a 10-member search committee targeted three candidates, who were not brought to the campus for final interviews, while Sterk did not go through the search process.

The departure to a lower-level conference might signal some frustration on Sterk’s part with the general struggles keeping WSU competitive in the Pac-10, as well as the difficulties associated with a major fundraising effort for Martin Stadium.

Meanwhile, Sterk’s relationship with WSU president Elson Floyd, who didn’t hire him when Sterk was appointed in June 2000, was not always believed smooth.

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Attempts to reach Sterk on Friday night were unsuccessful.

Two potential replacements whose names are likely to surface will be John Johnson, an associate athletic director at WSU and recently an unsuccessful candidate for the AD job at UNLV; and Bill Moos, the former Oregon athletic director whose contractual departure from the Ducks might cause the Cougars to have to be creative if they target him.

Moos left Oregon in 2007 and was given a 10-year, $2 million buyout provided by a major donor, Pat Kilkenny, who served a two-year term himself as AD before he was replaced in 2009 by Mike Bellotti.

Moos’ buyout stipulates that he forfeits the money — about $1.4 million remains to be paid — if he takes a job at a Bowl Championship Series school west of the Mississippi.

There is considerable support among many WSU alums for Moos, an alumnus himself. He was a candidate for the same WSU opening in 1994 while AD at Montana, but was passed over in favor of Rick Dickson. Moos subsequently went to Oregon and enjoyed a successful run there.

Johnson, meanwhile, has worked under Sterk since 2004. An alum of Eastern Washington, he had stints as athletic director at EWU and Weber State. He has been Sterk’s chief fundraiser.

Sterk launched the Martin Stadium renovation project, but it was delayed in 2008 by the souring of the economy. Last September, the Cougars announced they were restarting fundraising to try to get construction of luxury suites, loge boxes and club seats going early in 2010, but Sterk said recently the project needs to reach an 80-percent commitment level of pledged seats and it stands at a little above 50 percent.

Sterk’s crowning hire was that of the Bennetts, Dick and Tony, who revived WSU basketball. But football has been a recent thorn; after a 30-win run from 2001-03, the program declined, Sterk replaced Bill Doba with Paul Wulff and WSU has won only three games the past two years.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com