CollegeAD Conversation: Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek

December 12th, 2018 | by CollegeAD
CollegeAD Conversation: Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek

hunter yurachek
On December 4, 2017, Hunter Yurachek was officially announced as the next Director of Athletics at the University of Arkansas. A lot has happened in Fayetteville over the last 12-months. Just a few days after Yurachek was hired, he hired Chad Morris to lead the football program, the baseball team made a run to the finals of the College World Series, and just recently the department received the green light to move forward with renovations and upgrades to three key athletic facilities. Recently CollegeAD had the opportunity to sit down with the Hogs AD, who reflected on his first year and look ahead to what to expect in year two.

CollegeAD: What stands out to you the most about your first year at the University of Arkansas?

Hunter Yurachek: Without a doubt, what stood out for me in my first year is the passion our fan base, the passion they have for the Razorbacks and the support we receive from across this state. We currently have 170 suites in Razorback Stadium and 163 were sold this past season. We’ve got 10,000 basketball season tickets sold and we will probably land between 7,000-8,000 baseball season tickets sold.

If you go back to the summer, we had an estimated 20,000 Razorback fans make the trip to the College World Series in Omaha, and it’s all occurring in one of the smallest states in the country.

As I take a step back and look, it’s truly incredible. Razorback fans are like no other and it’s what makes this position, as the Director of Athletics at the University of Arkansas, so so special and of the things that surprised the heck out of me in my first year.

CollegeAD: The baseball team’s run to the finals of the College World Series had to be a nice welcome for you?

Hunter Yurachek: Absolutely, I had been on the brink of going to Omaha back when I was the AD at Coastal Carolina and again at the University of Houston, and getting to the College World Series had been one of the goals I had set as I begin to climb through administration. It really started when I was the University of Virginia, the program that Brian O’Connor was starting to build when I was there. So to not only be able to get to Omaha in my first year at the University of Arkansas, but to get on the brink of winning a National Championship, that the icing on the cake for a first year AD.

CollegeAD: The University of Arkansas recently received approval to renovations and upgrades to three athletic facilities, what will those renovations entail?

Hunter Yurachek: Baum Stadium was voted this year by Baseball America as the best place to watch a college baseball game in the country. From a fan standpoint, it is unbelievable, it’s one of the best collegiate venues in the country. One of the things though that we were falling a little bit behind some of our counterparts was in the amenities we have for student-athletes. The locker room facility, the team room, the training room, the strength and conditioning center, and the set up for our coaches and their offices. So we’re going to go in and build approximately a 40,000 – 45,000 sq ft baseball clubhouse that will be in right field. hunter yurachek

We’ve got the Hog Pen in left field which is just an incredible fan area. The addition in right field will create some of the best amenities for our student-athletes in the country to go along with Baum Stadium. We also have an adjacent indoor practice facility, it will give us, if the nicest, one of the nicest baseball complexes in the country.

CollegeAD: On the track and field side of things, what are the plans?

Hunter Yurachek: We have one of the most storied track and field programs in the country, over 40 national championships won in either cross country or indoor and outdoor track and field. What we’re going to do is build a track and field high-performance center at McDonald Field.

The high-performance center will be approximately a 20,000 sq. ft. facility for our men’s and women’s track and field and cross country programs. The building will have new locker rooms for each of those programs, a shared team room and lounge area, equipment storage, and hopefully, we will be able to accommodate our coaches offices in that facility as well. hunter yurachek

CollegeAD: When it comes to funding for the projects, what is the model that you’re using to fund the new facilities?

Hunter Yurachek: These projects will be funded through a mix of private donations, athletic generated revenues, as well as a future bond issue. With the approval for each of these projects by the board, we’re officially getting ready to embark on the design phase for each of these projects as we continue our fundraising process.

Note: In December, the university announced lead gifts for both the project at Baum Stadium and the renovation of the Randal Tyson Track Center. Arkansas announced a $5 million gift from the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation for the Baum Stadium project and a $6 million gift from the Tyson Family for the Randal Tyson Track Center renovation. Arkansas hopes to raise $25 million in the quiet phase of fundraising for the three projects.

CollegeAD: What does the fundraising timeline look like, and when do you expect to begin construction?

Hunter Yurachek: We’re going to start the design phase immediately, we’re going to go around and tour some facilities that have some things we think might fit the design of what we’re trying to create here. Our goal is to break ground on each of these projects sometime in the fall of 2019 with a completion goal for each project in early 2021. We host the 2021 NCAA indoor track and field national championships in March of 2021, so that project has to be completed in time for that event.

We’re fundraising for naming gifts or lead gifts for each of these projects separately but for the issue of bonds, these projects will be collected together, somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-$55 million worth of projects.

CollegeAD: What are some of the projects that you’re looking forward to tackling in your second year as athletic director at the University of Arkansas?

Hunter Yurachek: For me, in my first year, as it is for most athletic directors in their first year, its been a blur. One of the things I was charged with was getting around the state of Arkansas, meeting and engaging with so many of our constituents across the state. That took me off campus for a significant period of time during this first year and when you’re off campus as an athletic director you don’t have the time to interact as much as I’d like to with our student-athletes.

So, one of the goals I have, as I head into my second year, its very important for me to try and spend more time on campus, spend more time interacting and getting to know our incredible student-athletes on a much more personal level. They are the reason I’m here and I do what I do. I’m so passionate about them and their experience.

CollegeAD: You mentioned you spent much of your time on the road, visiting different areas of the state, why was so important to get out and meet the people of Arkansas?

Hunter Yurachek: The University of Arkansas is the flagship institution for the state of Arkansas, we’re the only Power Five school in the state and the Razorbacks represent the entire state and I truly believe that our department serves as a front porch not only to this university but in many instances for the entire state of Arkansas. So I think it’s very important for the leader of the department of athletics at the flagship institution of the state to get out and about across the state and engage so many of our fans.

Fayetteville is tucked up in the northwest corner of Arkansas, so people don’t get a chance to get up to Fayetteville from across the state, so it was important for me to get out and see them, to learn about the fabric of this state and what makes this state so special.
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CollegeAD: Is that why playing a football game in Little Rock so important to the university and athletic department?

Hunter Yurachek: Absolutely, the Razorbacks and Little Rock, I quickly found out that they are part of the fabric of this state. Not only for football which is discussed more often but we also play there in men’s and women’s basketball, we play there in baseball and that’s because the Razorbacks represent this entire state and it’s important for us to continue to have a presence there.

CollegeAD: Speaking of playing in and around the state, this fall was the first time the Razorbacks played Little Rock in baseball, with the NCAA now allowing fall games not to count against the spring schedule, do you anticipate adding games with other institutions in Arkansas?

Hunter Yurachek: All of our sports now have the opportunity to schedule games with any of our sister, system institutions, which at this point from a Division I standpoint would be the University of Arkansas Little Rock and the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff.

There’s not a mandate that these games are scheduled by any of our programs, just the door has been opened for the first time for this to happen.

We’re going to play both Little Rock and UAPB this spring in regular season games this spring at Baum Stadium and I know several other coaches are in conversation with the folks at Little Rock and Pine Bluff about future games in other sports as well.

CollegeAD: Any other projects on the horizon?

Hunter Yurachek: Concurrent with three projects, the baseball clubhouse, and renovation to the indoor track and field facility and the track and field high-performance center, we’ve engaged the services of AECOM. They’re going to lead a feasibility study for us on Bud Walton Arena, the current home of our men’s and women’s basketball programs as well Barnhill Arena, which is our former basketball facility that now serves as the home of our gymnastics and volleyball programs.

CollegeAD: Finally, what’s next for Arkansas athletics?

Hunter Yurachek: One of the things when I arrived, we created a vision, a mission, and a focus. Our vision is to be the best, and that vision is measured in part by the academic and athletic success of our student-athletes. This is truly a special place that continues to experience a high level of success including 43 National Championships, 128 Southeastern Conference Championships, 41 bowl game appearances, and we’re going to continue that.

One of the things on my plate right now is continuing to work as hard as we can to put the football program in a position where it can legitimately compete for an SEC Championship. People will tell me and they will tell coach Morris that we’ve got a long way to go and I think we both understand that. He and I are on the same page, we’re going to build this program together, we’re going to build it the right way, and we’re going to build for long-term success. When you’re competing and building the program for long-term success in the best conference in the nation, it’s going to take some time. That’s one of my focal points and has been since I arrived and we will continue to work on that. Until we get our football program where we want it to be, sports like baseball, basketball, track and field, softball, and golf will continue to carry that Razorback banner for us.

Last year we were No. 1 in the Learfield Directors Cup standings among programs that had 19 or fewer sports. I think that speaks to the depth of our program. Football provides the fuel that we put into the engine of our athletic program. Our football program hasn’t been as successful as we want it and need it to be to continue to provide that fuel and we’re working towards that.

In spite of that, we’ve had some unbelievable success from so many of our programs.

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