April 13, 2001 11:00 pm

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

Rob Cashell loved Eastern Oregon Universitys new fitness center when he visited the campus last week, and the candidate for athletic director immediately saw the potential Quinn Coliseums remodeling had for the school.

Were in business in athletics, Cashell said Friday after he was hired as the schools new athletic director. Were presenting a product out to our student-athletes and all those aesthetic things are very important to their decisions.

The school on Friday announced the hiring of Cashell, 34, who has been the athletic director at Western Montana College of the University of Montana in Dillon the last five years.

Cashell will replace Peggy Anderson, the 15-year athletic director who will take a year-long sabbatical beginning July and return in 2002 as a full-time physical educationhealth professor.

Unlike Anderson, who has always been a professor and athletic director, Cashell will be a full-time administrator, responsible for 300 student-athletes and an athletic support staff of more than 20.

It is really time now in the logical progression of Easterns growth to have somebody who is a manager probably more than a professor in that position, said Harris Shelton, Easterns vice president for student affairs.

Cashells experience at Western Montana, where he supervised an NAIA program for a school with fewer than 1,000 full-time students, attracted the attention of the schools 13-member search committee. The position had 84 applicants.

He continued to rise in the process because, No. 1, he had direct athletic director experience, and No. 2, he understood institutions of the same size as Eastern, Shelton said. He understood some of the difficulties of scheduling and travel and just the general operation of intercollegiate athletic programs at a similar institution.

And the fact that we knew he had been successful, Shelton added. His references were excellent when we called them.

In addition to being athletic director at Western Montana, Cashell was associate director of college relations and worked primarily with athletic fund-raising.

His experience in fund-raising, marketing and community involvement will be of great benefit to EOU, Eastern president Phil Creighton said.

We were very in tune in trying to raise dollars and trying to market our programs, Cashell said. With a lot of help from our coaching staff, weve come up with a lot of ideas.

Western Montana has picked up corporate sponsors the school has a deal with Pepsi and has attracted money through golf tournaments and booster clubs.

Eastern recently organized a booster club, and Cashell visited with members when he came to campus for an interview.

Im very excited about the formation of the booster club, and I know that they have some ideas in hand, Cashell said. Opportunities for signage and corporate sponsorship are there.

Cashell has been with Western Montana since 1990 and began as director of athletics in 1996. He is a 1984 graduate of Butte High School and a 1990 graduate of Western. He received his masters degree in education from Montana State-Northern in Havre in 1993.

He and his wife Heather are the parents of two daughters, Hanna, 3fi, and Elizabeth, 14 months.

Cashell grew up in southwest Montana and is involved in camping, fishing, hiking, anything to get outdoors, he said. Certainly with a small, young family, weve curtailed that a little bit.

Hes also into physical fitness, so he will get a chance to try out that new fitness center when his new job begins July 1.

Im very excited about this next chapter in my career and very enthused about the positive atmosphere around Eastern, he said. The area seems primed to be supportive.