Razorback Foundation head wants in on action

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Chris Wyrick, the new director of the Razorback Foundation and is the only one who is not a former Arkansas football player, said his four years of working with Harold Horton is a plus.
Chris Wyrick, the new director of the Razorback Foundation and is the only one who is not a former Arkansas football player, said his four years of working with Harold Horton is a plus.

— Chris Wyrick is the first man to run the Razorback Foundation who isn’t a former Arkansas football player.

Wyrick, who is from Greensboro, N.C., and has a career full of fundraising experience, is well aware that the succession of ex-Razorbacks from Wilson Matthews to Terry Don Phillips to Chuck Dicus to Harold Horton ended when he was named to the post Sept. 3.

The point man behind the Arkansas athletic department’s successful Razorback Seat Value Plan said he thinks four-plus years of working with Horton has given him a solid perspective on the ways the foundation, the UA athletic department’s fundraising arm, interacts with and draws support from the Razorbacks’ donors and fan base.

“I was the athletic department liaison, which meant I was down here at least once or twice a week, so I know Harold Horton and I know the affection people have for him,” said Wyrick, who had most recently been Arkansas’ senior associate athletic director for development. “People may not know me obviously as well as they know some other members of this staff, but they’ve seen me work. We took 14,000 phone calls in RSVP. I may not have been a face, but I was certainly a voice that was on the phone, OK?

“So, in that regard, I think the transition for the fan of me not being a former football letterman Arkansan, it’s not like they just flew me in overnight and nobody had met me.”

Wyrick, chosen the national fundraiser of the year by the National Association of Athletic Development Directors while at Vanderbilt in 2003, said the football team’s disappointing season would not impede the fundraising aims of the foundation.

“In fundraising and in life, it’s very easy to make excuses,” he said. “We had a bad year because this or we had a great year because this.

“Any time there’s a change in leadership, whether it’s an interim or a new coach, there’s going to be excitement. People are going to be excited about Arkansas football. So I’m not worried that this single season and where it may or may not end is going to be a lull or an excuse for us to not have a great fundraising year.”

Wyrick, 45, said he thinks that whatever happens the rest of the football season will lead to fan enthusiasm in athletics with football recruiting and other sports early next year.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “I think you couple that with the fact Mike [Anderson] is going to have a great year [in men’s basketball], and he’s going to be in conference in January and February. And [Dave] Van Horn’s getting ready to kick itoff [in baseball]. They’ll rally.

Wyrick, noting the record fundraising and Razorback Foundation membership the past couple of years, isn’t looking to overhaul the organization. However, some change is inevitable.

Wyrick has installed his office at the front of the foundation building connected to the ticket office at Baum Stadium, a fundamental difference from his predecessors.

“This isn’t being corny, but this is where the action’s at, man,” Wyrick said. “I want to be up here. I want to greet the donors when they’re talking. I feel like you lead from the front and I feel you get an excellent, excellent pulse for what’s going on in this organization because it’s happening right up here.”

Wyrick’s leadership at the foundation appears to represent somewhat of a philosophical shift by the university.

Asked his view of the relationship between the foundation and the university administration, Wyrick said: “My honest answer to that is that relationship - I want to make this very clear - not at Arkansas, but across the country, has changed dramatically in the last four, five years.

“With Penn State, with Ohio State, with Chapel Hill, all of these things that are going on that are causing athletic directors and coaches and presidents to lose their jobs, university campuses are growing very intolerant of private organizations that ultimately report to them. So my answer to that is I truly believe in the Razorback Foundation.We have 14,000 stakeholders, stockholders if you will, but we only have one customer. The customer is the athletic department of the University of Arkansas.

“If that customer is not happy or that customer were to ever go away there’s no place for the stakeholders. So, we do have a private board. I do report to that board. But make no mistake about it, I accept direction and accountability equally from Jeff Long. And I believe it should be that way.”

Wyrick said he feels qualified to make that statement because he’s seen multiple setups between athletic departments and their fundraising branches and “the best model is a private foundation that understands who it’s accountable to.

“It’s not accountable to itself,” he said. “It’s accountable to the director of athletics and to the chancellor of the university.”

Wyrick said he is also moving to upgrade the foundation’s technology capabilities, modernize and streamline ticket distribution with plans like the e-ticket system and Ballena Technologies, which helps patrons choose their own seats, and work toward “a comprehensive strategic communications plan.”

A new web site for the foundation is currently in construction and the start of 2013 will see the launch of other initiatives.

Wyrick said one of the biggest roles of the foundation is to show members why what they do is important.

“The alumni association is 20 to 25,000 and we’re only 13,000, so obviously there’s a lot of people interested in Arkansas that we’ve still got to go knock on their door,” Wyrick said. “So for us to sustain that and grow it, I don’t feel by an means that the well is dry. But we’ve got to go out and recruit them and get them in.”

Sports, Pages 19 on 11/02/2012