The University of Minnesota has replaced the firm hired to find its next president after the company took on a presidential search for another Big Ten university.

Citing divided loyalties, the U decided to part ways with Storbeck/Pimentel and Associates, which it hired on a roughly $220,000 contract to help recruit and vet candidates to replace President Eric Kaler.

“We did not make this decision lightly,” said David McMillan, chair of the Board of Regents. “We needed a firm dedicated to finding the next great leader of the University of Minnesota.”

Back in August, partners with Storbeck/Pimentel cautioned the U’s governing board that the university would be in direct competition with several peer institutions, including Michigan State University, that were also seeking new top administrators. Late last month, the firm signed on to help with Michigan State’s search.

Storbeck/Pimentel, with offices in California and on the East Coast, refunded a payment of $74,666 and will be compensated only for expenses the firm incurred.

“We had a very different understanding — the board and the firm — of where their time would be committed and to whom,” McMillan said. “I don’t want their attention split. I don’t want competition for leading candidates.”

The university has engaged the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges to help the 23-member committee of faculty, staff, students and others appointed to lead the search.

The switch is an early setback for the high-stakes search for a new U leader, but Storbeck/Pimentel co-founder Alberto Pimentel said the move will not disrupt the process. Pimentel said the firm could have handled both searches at the same time, with a different partner working on each. But he understood the regents’ concerns.

“I think in this case they are doing the right thing to be good stewards of the university,” he said.

At a presentation to the board in August, Pimentel warned the regents that several peers, including Michigan State, would be looking for new top leaders at the same time.

“These are all institutions that are competing against you,” he told the board.

He assured regents his firm was not working with those other schools, and there would be no conflict. On Wednesday, Pimentel said the firm could not be as exclusive as the university had hoped.

There was no clause guaranteeing exclusivity in the contract, he noted. He said this was a good time to hand the reins over to another consultant.

“We’re not only on schedule; we’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “The recruitment is going phenomenally well. The candidates that started to be assembled are really amazing.”

Joseph Konstan, the head of the U’s Faculty Senate, said although he understands consultants juggle such searches regularly, the firm’s decision to take on the Michigan job is a “breach of trust.”

“It is simply not true that these will be completely different candidates,” he said.

The U will pay the Association of Governing Boards $150,000 to help complete the search. On Thursday, the U will release a document outlining the traits it is seeking in its next president, based on input the search committee gathered on all five system campuses.

Storbeck/Pimentel also handled a recent search for chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. In March, its governing board rejected all finalists the firm offered up and instead appointed the interim Chancellor Devinder Malhotra to the permanent post.

At Michigan State, President Lou Anna Simon resigned in January following intense criticism over that school’s handling of a scandal involving a former university doctor accused of sexually abusing more than 150 young athletes, including some Olympic athletes. The physician, Larry Nassar, was convicted of assaulting seven girls.