CONWAY — After more than four years running the Coastal Carolina University athletic department, Hunter Yurachek has decided the time is right to take the next step in his career and revealed Thursday that he has accepted a position at the University of Houston.
Yurachek will remain Coastal’s director of athletics through the middle of March before becoming Houston’s associate vice president and chief operating officer for intercollegiate athletics, working under vice president for intercollegiate athletics Mack Rhoades.
Yurachek previously worked under Rhoades as an executive senior associate athletics director at the University of Akron before taking over at Coastal in January of 2010, and the two have since remained friends. Given that relationship, the position being offered and the chance to take on significant responsibility at a much larger institution, Yurachek said he felt it was the right opportunity to take him from Conway.
“He made it very attractive,” Yurachek said of his conversations with Rhoades. “Mack had offered me a position five years ago when he first got the job down there, and I did not want to go to Houston to assume that job that I could have had five years ago. [But] the way he set this up [with] the associate vice president/chief operating officer title and the responsibilities of really kind of helping him run the day-to-day operations of the entire athletic department, it will give me the professional experience that I need to be able to take that next step and accomplish my professional goals of becoming a director of athletics at a BCS school here in the next seven to 10 years.”
Yurachek, who is 45 years old, said the two visited during the NCAA convention last month and have had continued conversations since then. He officially signed the offer sheet Wednesday, and in addition to informing CCU President David DeCenzo he had also reached out to all of the Chanticleers’ head coaches before the news broke.
DeCenzo was out of town Thursday for the NCAA Committee on Institutional Performance in Indianapolis, Ind., and responded via text message that he would speak on the matter Friday. The university’s news release, meanwhile, said a national search for a new director of athletics would begin immediately.
Speaking in his office Thursday before both schools formally announced the news, Yurachek said DeCenzo was supportive and understood his decision.
“He was very appreciative of the time that I’ve spent here and the achievements we’ve had as an athletic program since my arrival,” Yurachek said. “Obviously, him and I have had conversations before about how long I may or may not stay here, so I don’t think it came as a shock to him that with an opportunity this good coming forth that I would be leaving.”
Rhoades said in a phone interview that he and Yurachek had kept in touch the last several years and “always talked about working together again.”
“One, he’s a great person, great family man, he has a great family and he’s highly regarded administrator in our field,” Rhoades said. “I think his experiences, the fact that he’s been an [athletic director], the fact that he’s done a great job as an AD will help us move to the next level.”
Rhoades said while he had talked to a handful of other potential candidates for the position, “Hunter was always my first choice.”
The position Yurachek is filling at Houston is new in its title and responsibilities, but the opening came when former deputy athletics director Darren Dunn left to become Northern Colorado’s athletic director.
In describing the job at Houston, Yurachek said Rhoades planned to spend more time focusing on fundraising for facility upgrades, creating the need to have another person overseeing the day-to-day operations of the athletic department. The school is opening a $120 million football stadium this fall, preparing to build a $15 million basketball practice facility and eying a new basketball arena as well, Yurachek said.
The growing nature of the university – which claims an enrollment of 40,750 undergraduate and graduate students – and the athletic program there was very appealing, he said while likening it to the period of change he experienced at Coastal. During Yurachek’s tenure with the Chants, the university finished construction of The HTC Center, made upgrades to Brooks Stadium and launched a long-overdue significant construction project on new baseball and softball stadiums that remains ongoing, among other improvements.
That growth – and the corresponding growth of the school’s athletic programs – is what Yurachek said he is proudest of from his time in Conway.
“When I got here, when I first met [baseball] coach [Gary] Gilmore, he was in a double-wide trailer with the floor falling through and our student-athletes were in a double-wide trailer for an academic center,” Yurachek said. “As this university has been able to grow and improve its infrastructure, we have been able to do the same thing.”
Coastal teams have combined for 29 Big South Conference championships (regular season and tournament) and 30 NCAA postseason appearances during Yurachek’s tenure. He also emphasized that the 3.108 cumulative grade-point average of the school’s student-athletes following the fall semester was the highest the department has on record.
Meanwhile, during the last four years he hired new coaches for the women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s lacrosse, women’s tennis, women’s basketball, men’s golf and football programs, though DeCenzo officially made the final decision on football coach Joe Moglia two years ago.
“My initial reaction [to the news] was bittersweet,” said first-year Coastal women’s basketball coach Jaida Williams, who Yurachek hired last April. “Very sad to see him go. I think he’s a great man, a great boss, a great father, a great person, but I was also very excited for him because I knew that with what he’s done at Coastal Carolina he deserves a job like that [at a bigger school].”
Gilmore said, “I hate to see him go. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity. He was in a great place and it took a great opportunity to have him leave, so heck, I understand. I took that opportunity as well at one point in my life. Young ADs like that, that’s part of what it is – three, four, five years in a place, they do good job and move on.”
Speaking of big decisions, Yurachek singled out the process of replacing popular longtime football coach David Bennett in December of 2011 as the most difficult task in his time at Coastal.
The university also endured a high-profile NCAA investigation into the men’s basketball program in 2011 that turned up only a secondary violation and has a pending matter before the NCAA concerning self-reported violations committed by former men’s golf coach Allen Terrell.
“I think there’s always things you look back and say you’d do differently,” Yurachek said when asked of any regrets he had from the last four years. “I’ve learned a great deal. Obviously, what we went through with the dismissal of David Bennett was probably the most trying time here, but I’m not sure necessarily what we could have done differently during that process. That was a painful process for everybody involved on both sides of the fence.”
As for moving on, with his last day set for March 15, Yurachek said he had received calls from other schools in previous years, but this was the first formal offer to come his way – and the time just felt right.
His eldest son Ryan will graduate from Carolina Forest High School this spring and his middle son Jake begins high school next year. He had promised them both that he wouldn’t move the family while they were in high school.
“So the timing fit both personally and professionally,” he said. “I feel good about how I’m leaving Coastal Carolina University right now. We’re still in such an upswing and have so many positive things going on, I feel like I can step aside and someone’s going to step in and continue the upward trend.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.