Yurachek: Team nears 'level we all want'

By: Pete Perkins, Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek speaks to the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock.
( Thomas Metthe)
Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek speaks to the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK — Hunter Yurachek knew from the start his priority as the University of Arkansas’ athletic director was to help produce a successful football program.

“Obviously, your football program is the flagship program of your department of athletics in the Southeastern Conference, and we want to get that football program to the level we all want it to be across the state, and we’re getting closer,” Yurachek said a half hour before he addressed the Little Rock Touchdown Club luncheon crowd at DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Little Rock on Monday. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’ve had a lot of success.

“That’s obviously the biggest part. Seventy-five percent of our revenue comes from the football program, so the more success the football program has, the better.”

Yurachek was hired in early December 2017. His first significant move for the sake of football came when he named Chad Morris the school’s new football coach. Meaningful announcements Nos. 1 and 2 came after he fired Morris and hired current Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman.

Morris’ teams completed the 2018 and 2019 seasons at 2-10. He was fired the day after Arkansas lost 45-19 to Conference USA’s Western Kentucky with two games left on the schedule. Pittman was hired on Dec. 8, 2019, and Arkansas was ranked as high as No. 8 by the Associated Press in his second season.

Following a covid-shortened 2020 season full of thrillers that still led to a 3-7 finish, Arkansas finished 2021 ranked No. 22 by The Associated Press with a 9-4 record after a 24-10 Outback Bowl victory over Penn State.

Three games into the 2022 season, the Razorbacks are 3-0 under Pittman and ranked No. 10.

“Sometimes when you hire coaches, you get it right, and sometimes you don’t,” said David Bazzel, the Touchdown Club’s master of ceremonies. “The hires that he’s had, he’s gotten right, and then he’s managed to bring a great culture between the coaches there.

“Sometimes you have to have a little luck. If your first choice doesn’t work out, [that’s OK if your] second choice is a good one. He gets it. I think he gets the culture here.”

To start this season, Arkansas has defeated Cincinnati, South Carolina and Missouri State, coached by controversial former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino. On Saturday night, Arkansas bounced back from a 17-0 first-half deficit to defeat Missouri State 31-24.

On Monday, Yurachek created laughter in the banquet hall with a tongue-in-cheek comment.

“I was never worried on Saturday,” he said. “We had them right where we wanted them. I thought fumbling on the 1-yard line [was] a great strategy early on.”

Arkansas will play Texas A&M on Saturday in Arlington, Texas, followed by Alabama with a 2:30 p.m. start in Fayetteville on Oct. 1. The Aggies and the Crimson Tide are ranked No. 23 and No. 2, respectively.

“If you have an undefeated Alabama coming into play an undefeated Arkansas, both top-10 teams, we’ll have an atmosphere like we haven’t seen in my tenure, and I don’t know the last time we would’ve seen it,” Yurachek said.

Arkansas’ football team has been ranked during successive seasons for the first time since 2015 and 2016, and by at least one measure, the Razorbacks’ success in the three major men’s sports during the 2021-22 school year was unique among NCAA Division I programs. Arkansas athletics was the only to win a bowl game and to qualify teams for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the College World Series.

Yurachek said he was aware of a similar, though not identical circumstance when Arkansas’ football team won the 1978 Orange Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 3, the men’s basketball advanced to the Final Four and the baseball team finished runner-up in the 1979 College World Series.

After Bazzel said that particular circumstance came more than 40 years ago, Yurachek said Arkansas fans should still expect occasional lulls but none so prolonged.

“We may have a dip,” Yurachek said. “We may have to wait four months for it to come back up. We’re not waiting 40 years.”

Bazzel said he believes Arkansas has the right man in place.

“He’s a likable guy,” he said. “He’s a sharp guy. Obviously, when you advance to that level, you have good smarts, but you also have to have likability, and he gets it. He engages with all the players. The AD of this era has to be able to do social media, which he does. He has to be able to be relatable to the athletes. He checks all the boxes.”


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