Photographs by Andy Shupe
University of Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz (left) shakes hands with Hunter Yurachek, the newly announced athletic director Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at a press conference in Fayetteville.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE -- Hunter Yurachek made a promise Wednesday that Arkansas Razorbacks fans will judge him by in the years to come.
In his second day on the job as vice chancellor and director of athletics for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Yurachek said he was attracted to Arkansas by the potential for many sports on campus to compete for national and SEC championships.
Then he went straight to the heart of the matter.
"We're going to get this football piece right," Yurachek said moments after his introductory news conference with UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz at the Fowler Family Center. "We're going to get it right. I promise you we're getting that right. If you get that train rolling, the football train rolling, the sky is the limit for this athletic program."
Yurachek, 49, said interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples got him up to speed quickly on the school's search for a head football coach, and he signed off on the plan that quickly landed SMU Coach Chad Morris on Wednesday.
"We've gotten it right," Yurachek said a couple of hours before the UA officially announced the hiring of Morris. "When the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted and this comes out officially, you're going to be really excited."
Yurachek, who never had visited Fayetteville before accepting the AD position, acknowledged he has much to learn about absorbing the culture at Arkansas.
"I just had a brief meeting with the entire athletic department staff," Yurachek said. "They taught me how to call the Hogs ... at the end of that meeting. I am so excited to get started here and get my feet on the ground and get going as director of athletics."
Steinmetz said he identified Yurachek, who was vice president of athletics at the University of Houston, early in the process as he compiled an initial pool of about 70 prospects. This was prior to the hiring of the search firm Korn Ferry, which was used to vet the group of finalists, which Steinmetz numbered at seven or eight.
"Hunter's name came up probably more frequently than any other name for that list at that time," Steinmetz said.
Former Razorback All-American golfer Stacy Lewis, who makes her home as a professional golfer in the Houston area and is married to Houston women's golf Coach Gerrod Chadwell, was on the seven-member advisory committee to help Steinmetz in the AD search. She gave a strong recommendation for Yurachek.
"She was very, very valuable in the end to help us decide if Hunter was the right person," Steinmetz said. "I'm really indebted to Stacy for that."
Yurachek interviewed in Houston on Saturday morning and later that night the Cougars beat Arkansas 91-65 in men's basketball at Texas Southern's H&PE Arena. Steinmetz called Monday morning to tell Yurachek he was the pick for athletic director.
"When I called Hunter to let him know that he was my choice, the first thing he asked me was whether the job was still available since they beat us," Steinmetz said. "I told him the answer was yes."
Yurachek mentioned he talked to Arkansas men's basketball Coach Mike Anderson on Wednesday during a meeting of the entire athletics department.
"I just talked to Coach Anderson," Yurachek said. "I said I went from Saturday that being a great win to today that being a bad loss."
Yurachek presented a 100-day plan in his interview with Steinmetz and Lewis, which became one of many factors that weighed in his favor, Steinmetz said.
"That 100-day plan really engages me and the university community, the Fayetteville and surrounding community, and across the state during my first 100 days," Yurachek said.
"He cares about the success of our athletes in every phase of their lives not only on the court and in the field, but also as they relate to the community and studies," Steinmetz said in listing the high points that led to Yurachek's hiring. "He has a proven track record of making smart coaching hires and maintaining those all-important relationships with those coaches.
"He's someone others across the nation point to as one of the best. A true leader with a vision for the future. Most importantly -- and this was most important to me -- he understands what an amazing situation we have here in Arkansas. What the Razorbacks mean to Arkansas and to the state. The opportunity we have here to take this program to even greater heights. We found that guy."
Yurachek flew into Fayetteville on Tuesday night with his wife, Jennifer, capping a process that began in earnest with his interview Saturday morning.
Yurachek's energetic manner in a 20-minute athletic department meeting and during his news conference with Steinmetz were contrasted by red-rimmed eyes that hinted at the exhausting schedule he's been on in recent days.
"It's been amazing, from the call I got from the chancellor at 8 o'clock on Monday morning to the call he gave in the afternoon after the board meeting, and then trying to get up to speed with Julie on the football coaching search," Yurachek said. "I think I've probably gotten five or six hours of sleep in the last 48 hours.
"I didn't get much on Sunday night, kind of in anticipation of hoping the chancellor was going to call me. It's been a very exciting process, trying to leave the University of Houston in the right way and tie up some things I needed to tie up there, and then just get fully engaged here in this position at the University of Arkansas. It's been awesome."
Yurachek said he and his wife would travel back to Houston to tie up a few items before returning to Fayetteville.
"A little about me really quickly," Yurachek said. "You can put me in a nutshell with three passions in my life: My faith, my family and college athletics."
A number of UA personnel leaving the Fowler Family Center after the morning staff meeting spoke about Yurachek's energy and willingness to connect with individuals in the department.
"He won the meeting," one athletic department employee said.
Marvin Caston, a former Arkansas football player and now a senior director of development for the Razorback Foundation, said he came away impressed.
"He's 1-0 after that meeting," Caston said. "Now he's got to meet with you [media] guys."
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Sports on 12/07/2017
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