Photographs by Andy Shupe
Hunter Yurachek, athletics director at the University of Arkansas, speaks Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, during a press conference to introduce Chad Morris as the university's newly hired football coach at the Fowler Family Baseball and Track Indoor Training Center in Fayetteville.
Originally published February 12, 2018 at 04:30a.m., updated February 12, 2018 at 02:30p.m.
Hunter Yurachek was introduced as the new University of Arkansas, Fayetteville athletic director Dec. 6. Yurachek sat down with Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this month where they discussed several topics for this question and answer article.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: How has the transition to Fayetteville gone? Are you settled in?
Hunter Yurachek: I'm the only one in my family right now that has transitioned. The Yurachek family is one in major transition. My oldest son, Ryan, graduated from Marshall University and played in the New Mexico Bowl on the same day. Like a good student-athlete, he played in his bowl game and skipped his graduation. My middle son, Jake, is a senior in high school and since he's a senior, he and my wife Jennifer and my youngest son Brooks are going to finish out the school year there. So I'm the only one that's transitioned.
The first three weeks after Dec. 4, when Chancellor [Joe] Steinmetz offered me the position, I flew to Dallas the next day to meet with Coach Morris and his wife. And that night flew here for my press conference. Then we had Coach Morris' press conference the following day. Those three weeks are just a blur for me and my family. I think I went back and forth to Houston five times. Went out to New Mexico. Went to Birmingham for SEC meetings. Then finally took that week of Christmas off and really got acclimated. I drove up here New Year's Day and have had my feet firmly planted here in Northwest Arkansas and Fayetteville as much as I could. What I tell people is it's amazing how special the people are here and how special they've made me feel and how special they've made my family feel when they've been up here visiting. I told somebody a day or two ago that this is already starting to feel like home to me, which is amazing considering I'm living in a smaller townhome without my family here. But I've been able to get back to Houston for 24 hours once this month and it didn't feel as much like home as this feels like home. I think that really speaks volumes about how special the University of Arkansas is and this community and this entire state.
ADG: You've been very visible at events so far, such as a baseball scrimmage one day and at gymnastics that night. Is that your style?
HY: It is. First and foremost, I love supporting our student-athletes. That's really kind of the icing on the cake for me in this job. So I've been to about three gymnastics meets, been to women's basketball and men's basketball. I've been to indoor track. I've been to women's and men's tennis. I don't think there's been an event, if I've been in town, that I have not attended. Just because I want our student-athletes to understand how I support them. It also gives me a chance to interact with our fans at those events and get to know the various constituents we have who support all of our sports. It's amazing to see the number of people that I see at multiple venues that support all of our sports.
ADG: What's your game plan with Razorback Club meetings? Is it your intention to make a run on those this spring?
HY: It is. What I told our staff is without Jennifer and my boys here to take my time, then use it and abuse it. I want to get around this state. ... We had a two or three-hour meeting a couple of weeks ago to set my schedule for the rest of the spring so that I can get out and attend the Razorback Club meetings and go to different communities and speak to Rotary clubs. I know the Chancellor and I are going to do some chamber of commerce events across the state. And he and I are going to do a bus tour together.
So, yes, my role here for the next six to nine months, and really for a period well after that, but this next six months we're really heavy on me getting out and about and meeting all our constituents across the state of Arkansas.
ADG: You reached out to the coaches immediately after being hired. Why was that important to you and how far along are you on meeting them in person?
HY: It was important to me to reach out to our head coaches and reach out to our executive team. It's important for me to have a relationship with each and every one of our coaches. We have sport administrators who help our coaches on a day-to-day basis, but I'm the type of athletic director where I want to have a direct relationship with each of our coaches. I think I've met now with all but one of our head coaches and I've had them walk me around their facility and their locker rooms and team rooms to really help me get a vision for what their facilities can be, if there's the need for improvements. We've got some really nice facilities here and there's some facilities that don't need any TLC. But what I'm here for is to help our coaches be successful. I want to help them set the table and then get out of their way because I think we've got a solid group of great coaches here.
ADG: When you come on board there are going to be hot-button issues. What have you determined so far as the most important things that need to be addressed?
HY: Well, tongue in cheek a little bit on this, the fans in the Twitter world my kids tell me, it's Coke vs. Pepsi. It's a slobbering Hog vs. the not-slobbering Hog. So there's some things that our fan base thinks is important.
Obviously, the Little Rock issue that we have right now with that contract ending after the Ole Miss game this year, the chancellor and I have had some significant discussions about how to proceed. We're going to meet with the appropriate people in the coming months and have the discussions we need to make a decision on that. So obviously that is a hot-button issue that needs to be addressed. Moving the spring game I think was a really good step for us. And for the most part, I think about 95 percent of the feedback I've gotten has been very positive about us doing that. Coach Morris was on board with that when we presented the idea to him as a way, with a new staff, and kind of a new style of play that we'll see, we need to engage not just Northwest Arkansas but central Arkansas and eastern Arkansas and southern Arkansas and need to get out and about.
So we're going to have a really neat weekend there. Some of the details are still to come. We're not just going to bus down, play the game and bus back. We're going to have some interaction that night with the fans and our players, with Coach Morris and I. The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame event is that night. There's going to be a luncheon earlier in the day and a really nice tailgate party. And I think a version of the Razorfest prior to the game. So this is not just kind of a 'Let's go down and play the game and come back.' This is really going to be a 24-, 36-hour event for us to touch and feel central Arkansas.
ADG: What do you feel like your role is going to be in making this determination?
HY: Obviously I think this is going to be ultimately a very political decision and I think those that have been around this state understand that and know that. I've listened to Chancellor Steinmetz and I understand there was some headway made with my predecessor and the chancellor and the governor on a plan. So we'll continue to kind of vet through that to make sure that's the appropriate direction to take. But it's going to be a challenge, and this is not trying to say I'm not going to be a part of the decision. I am going to be a part of the decision, but there's such a history of games in Little Rock that I'm going to have to lean on a lot of people really to arrive at a very informed decision and the right decision. Not only for the University of Arkansas and our football program. This is a statewide decision.
ADG: There are several years left on the contract for the game in Arlington [Texas]. But it seems like from Texas A&M's side, they might favor going to home-and-home games. Do you have any thoughts on that?
HY: I have not really even had any discussions with Coach Morris, the chancellor about that series. Obviously that's an important game and where it's played with Mr. [Jerry] Jones and his family. I think that's probably a big piece of that puzzle for the University of Arkansas. I think there's some things I'm going to have to take some time and gather more information and talk to Coach Morris before there's any kind of preconceived opinions on the value of that game or where it's played, whether it's played there in Arlington or on a campus site.
ADG: At your introductory press conference you talked about the business model of college athletics and these huge buyouts, that you want to be on the leading edge of wherever that goes. What are your thoughts about what Chad Morris' buyout looks like and moving forward on that topic?
HY: Well, I think his buyout is roughly 70 percent and it mirrors on each side of the playing field, for lack of a better word. If we terminate him for convenience, there's a 70 percent buyout, and if he leaves for convenience or another position, there's a 70 percent buyout on that piece.
What I'd like to look at in the future moving forward is I don't have an understanding of how we got to the point where in the sense of losing games is not a for-cause termination. We hire coaches, regardless of what their sport is, to come in and support the mission of our athletic program, which is to educate young men or women ... and to make sure they have athletic success. To me, if you fall short of that goal as a coach, that should be termination with cause. Now, we're in an instant gratification society, where sometimes coaches are terminated when they have a winning record. So I think maybe there's a way to set up these buyouts where if your winning percentage is .500 or above, your buyout is X, and if it's .500 or below, your buyout is something else. But to say that you can walk away having lost a significant amount of your conference games and get a seven-figure payout to me seems like a very bad business model. That's money that could be reinvested in the student-athletes on your campus.
ADG: You're still in the process of finishing your formal contract?
HY: That's correct.
ADG: What is your buyout going to look like?
HY: My buyout's going to be 50 percent, and it took the chancellor and I about two minutes to negotiate that. It's if I'm fired for convenience it's 50 percent of what's remaining on my contract. If I leave for any reason, I owe 50 percent of what's remaining on my contract.
ADG: Your playing career at Guilford College was for basketball. Who are your comps? Who can we compare you to?
HY: Well, I always like to compare myself to like a Steve Wojciechowski, if you remember the Duke point guard. Or you could even go a step further, even though he wasn't a point guard, Kurt Rambis. I made my living playing defense, drawing charges, diving after loose balls, giving assists and doing those things. I couldn't have played in this era, where you have to kind of create space and make your own moves to the basket. I wasn't a dirty player, I was the guy who did all the dirty work that nobody wanted to play against because I was going to do that. Quite honestly that's why I had to stop playing like church leagues and rec leagues because I was still trying to take charges and dive after loose balls in rec leagues and things and it just got to the point where I just had to give it up. I only had one way to play.
ADG: When the north end zone construction is completed, that was called the Broyles Center. Is that still going to be the name of the facility or are naming rights in the works?
HY: Do you know the answer to that question, Kevin? [He turns to associate athletic director Kevin Trainor, who replies "The Broyles Center"). The Broyles Center, that's what I thought.
ADG: What are your thoughts on what you've gathered from men's basketball so far?
HY: Obviously every season has its peaks and its valleys. We've had, so far since my arrival, we've had a season of peaks and valleys. It was very interesting for me, on Dec. 2, I watched the University of Arkansas come in and play Houston and I was the AD at Houston at the time. Arkansas did not play very well that night. I think that was their first true road game of the season. It just was not their best performance by far. The next weekend I was here as the athletic director watching us play 14th-ranked Minnesota at the time and we played very well, were energetic at Bud Walton Arena and came away with the win. Coach Anderson invited me to the locker room and he said 'Guys, I want to introduce you to your new AD. I just want you to let you guys know you didn't make a very good first impression on him.' They were kind of like, 'Come on coach, we just beat Minnesota, what are you talking about?' He said, 'No he was the director of athletics at the University of Houston when we went there last week.' And they were like, 'Oh, come on.'
So, Coach Anderson and I got to spend a little time together, not a great amount of time because he's been busy, as have I, but he's a great leader of men. I think he's a great basketball coach. I think he's the right person to lead our basketball program at this point in time. We obviously perform much better at home than we do on the road, but I think that can be said for many teams.
ADG: Mike just agreed to an extension and a raise. Were you involved in that?
HY: I was not involved in that. It was completed prior to my arrival, roughly end of November, early December. The salary piece raise had to be approved by the board. I support that action that was taken and I fully support Coach Anderson and his role as our men's basketball coach.
ADG: What are your hobbies? What do you do when you're not being an AD?
HY: My hobbies for the last -- really since Ryan's been 3, have been whatever my kids are doing, watching them play sports. I always tried to coach basketball and baseball. ... The last four years, watching Ryan play football at Marshall and getting to Jake's high school games have really been my hobbies.
But kind of my release, I enjoy working out still. God has blessed me with the ability to still run some, ride my bike and lift weights. People in Texas tried to get me into hunting. I never got invited back twice [laughing]. Really, this job is so consuming, when I'm not here it's really just spending time with my family is what I enjoy doing, my wife and my three boys and watching them play sports and helping them develop in their sports. That's what I've done. My wife tells me as we're getting closer to being empty nesters here in four or five years, I better figure out a hobby. It'll be here pretty fast. If I had to pick a hobby now, I'd try to polish up on my golf game and try to get a little better at that and try to get it down at least into the 90s [laughing].
ADG: What about music. What's on your phone or your mp3?
HY: Oh gosh, you'd probably find country first and then a little rock and roll after that. I've run the gamut in my life. Big Garth Brooks fan. I went and saw Travis Tritt the other night. I thought he was unbelievable. It made me feel a little bit old school. I really love Robert Earl Keen, who is kind of a rocking blues country guy. I love going to listen to live music, acoustic guitars, and I'd lean more toward the country and rock and roll.
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