Yurachek: The team is getting closer to the ‘level we all want’

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

“Obviously your football program is the flagship program for your athletics department in the Southeastern Conference, and we want to bring that football program to the level that we all want it to be statewide. , and we’re getting closer,” Yurachek said half an hour before addressing the lunch crowd at the Little Rock Touchdown Club at the 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 successful the football program, the better.

Yurachek was hired in early December 2017. His first major football move came when he appointed Chad Morris as the school’s new football coach. The significant announcements No. 1 and 2 came after he fired Morris and hired current Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman.

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

After a covid-shortened 2020 season full of thrillers that still led to a 3-7 finish, Arkansas ended 2021 ranked No. 22 by the Associated Press with a 9-4 record after a 24- 10 from the Outback Bowl on Penn State.

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

“Sometimes when you hire coaches you succeed, and sometimes you don’t,” Touchdown Club emcee David Bazzel said. “The hires he’s had, he’s been right, and then he’s managed to bring a great culture between the coaches there.

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

To start this season, Arkansas beat 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 caused laughter in the banquet hall with a tongue-in-cheek comment.

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

Arkansas will face 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 Crimson Tide are ranked No. 23 and No. 2, respectively.

“If you have an undefeated Alabama coming in 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 have seen that,” Yurachek said.

The Arkansas football team was ranked in 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 school year 2021-22 was unique among NCAA Division I programs. . Arkansas Athletics was the only team to win a bowling game and qualify teams for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the College World Series.

Yurachek said he was aware of a similar, but not identical, circumstance when the Arkansas football team won the 1978 Orange Bowl and finished the season ranked third, men’s basketball s qualified for the Final Four and the baseball team finished second. 1979 World University Series.

After Bazzel said that particular circumstance happened more than 40 years ago, Yurachek said Arkansas fans should still expect occasional, but not as prolonged, lulls.

“We could have a dip,” Yurachek said. “We may have to wait four months for it to come back. We don’t wait 40 years.

Bazzel said he thinks Arkansas has the right person in place.

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

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