FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison said Tuesday he is retiring at the end of December after guiding the program through the transition to NCAA Division I athletics and the decision to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname after criticism that it was insensitive to American Indians.

Faison, who has been at the helm since 2008, said he has been thinking about retiring for about a year and the timing is right for his family and for his successor, who he said will have time to settle in before next season.

"Brian convinced me that it was time to retire," UND President Mark Kennedy said during a news conference in Grand Forks. "I think Brian has done a phenomenal service."

Faison first helped secure membership in the Big Sky Conference and recently led the upcoming switch to the Summit League for most sports and the Missouri Valley for football. He supported the men's hockey team when it dropped out of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and joined the startup National Collegiate Hockey Conference. He managed the addition of a new training facility, the UND Athletics High Performance Center.

The men's hockey team won its eighth national championship under Faison and last year four sports claimed Big Sky championships. Last March, Faison was named FCS Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association of College Athletic Directors, after the Fighting Hawks hosted their first football playoff game in the Championship Subdivision.

The athletic department in the last year has tried to weather a budget crisis, due in part to a drop in state support because of low oil and commodity prices. The school in March dropped four programs, including a women's hockey team that included many Olympians playing a beloved sport at the university.

Faison also was faced with promoting the new nickname to many fans upset by the downfall of the Fighting Sioux logo.

Kennedy presented Faison with a No. 10 UND hockey jersey to signify his number of years as athletic director during a daunting period.

"I know this will sound crazy, but it's been fun," Faison said. "I've had great support throughout, whatever we've had to deal with. At the end of the day, we've gotten done what we needed to do."

The announcement comes just weeks after the school hired a consulting firm to work with the top four officials in the athletic department. Kennedy bristled at the suggestion that the move was meant to appraise their job performances.

"We've repeatedly said that is not a review," Kennedy said. "People tend to ignore you. If they call an apple an orange long enough people think it's an orange. We're a learning organization that constantly focuses on making sure we're the best we can be."

Faison, who came to North Dakota from New Mexico State, where he was athletic director and special assistant to the president, will serve as special adviser to athletics until June 30.

Kennedy said he hopes to have a new athletic director named by Jan 1.