WSU's new athletic director, Pat Chun, 43, is the first Asian-American Athletic Director to head a Power Five Athletic Department.
Patrick Chun’s first action in his introductory speech as Washington State’s 14th athletic director was to take a moment to recognize Tyler Hilinski, who died last Tuesday – the day before Chun was originally scheduled to be introduced as WSU’s new A.D.
Chun, formerly the athletic director at Florida Atlantic, comes to WSU at a tough time, as the Cougars grieve the loss of a popular quarterback who tragically took his own life.
In his opening remarks, Chun lauded the WSU community for how it rallied around the Hilinski family and the football program.
Now, Chun hopes the WSU community will rally around him. As of Feb. 5, Chun will start his new job in Pullman hoping to lead WSU into what he called, “the next chapter of our athletic program’s history.”
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Chun, 43, is the first Asian-American Athletic Director at a Power Five school.
“I’m the son of hardworking and proud immigrants from South Korea,” Chun said Tuesday during his introductory news conference at Martin Stadium. “My parents arrived in America almost 50 years ago, armed with a belief in the American dream. They believed access to this dream was through education and hard work. Those values were never far from my mind growing up and still resonate with me today.”
The son of a taekwondo instructor father and a grocery store clerk mother, Chun, who holds a black belt in taekwondo, grew up in Ohio and attended Ohio State, where he met his wife, Natalie, a Buckeyes softball player. Chun’s wife and three daughters, Vanna, Kennedy and Gretta, all traveled to Pullman for his introduction.
Chun worked his way up within the Ohio State athletics department over 15 years, eventually rising to executive associate athletic director. He left in 2012 to become athletic director at Florida Atlantic.
Chun has a reputation as an excellent fundraiser – a quality WSU President Kirk Schulz stressed in WSU’s search for a successor to replace Bill Moos, who left for Nebraska in October.
He was selected as WSU’s athletic director after the search committee interviewed eight semifinalists, seven of whom were sitting Power Five athletic directors, Schulz said Tuesday.
Schulz said Chun was the first of the eight to interview with the search committee and that Chun was so impressive that, upon his departure, one committee member stood up and said, “I think we’re done, right there.”
Chun signed a five-year contract worth $650,000 annually, Schulz said. The contract contains two main incentives – a $25,000 bonus tied to a specific fundraising goal that Schulz said he and Chun will devise together, and a $25,000-per-year accrued retention bonus to be paid out after five years if Chun completes his initial contract with WSU.
“The financial part is where we need most of our effort, and that’s what Pat brings to the table,” Schulz said. “That’s what we wanted to incentivize.”
Chun said Tuesday that he believes there’s good infrastructure in place for success at WSU and that Schulz’s presence as president factored into his decision to take the job.
Schulz’s “vision and plans for the university and the department of athletics were critical in piquing my interest,” Chun said.
“The reputation of this place is incredible,” Chun said. “President Schulz’s reputation in college athletics is impeccable, and the reality is that for an athletic director in an athletics program, when you have a transformative leader as president, you can do some extraordinary things,”
“I believe everything is in place right now. … We’re in great shape. It’s my job to make sure this next chapter of our athletic program’s history is the greatest one ever written.”
In his introductory speech, Chun thanked senior members of the WSU athletic department, including interim athletic director John Johnson, for providing leadership over the last few months.
Chun also thanked Moos, saying, “his imprint is on this campus in many ways, and he left us with great momentum to build upon.”
Chun said he and Moos are “playing a vicious game of phone tag” but that he hopes to connect with his predecessor in the near future.
The Cougars’ new athletic director doesn’t plan to initiate any immediate staffing changes but said he’s “going to come in and just listen.”
“It’s amazing to see this community rally around what happened last week,” Chun said, referencing the aftermath of Hilinski’s death. “I’m just trying to learn and get you guys and the student-athletes to like me. We’re gonna build some trust and spend some time together, and we’re going to do some great things at WSU.”
Chun said he’s already met with many WSU athletics staff members and spoken to some of the coaches, including football coach Mike Leach.
Thus far, the two appear to have hit it off. Leach said they chatted via phone just before Chun was hired, then had a lengthy phone conversation after his hire, followed by a brief meeting.
“He is great, and has a significant body of work,” Leach said in response to a text message from The Seattle Times seeking comment on Chun’s hire. “I look forward to working with Pat.”
Chun has experience dealing with outspoken football coaches because he hired and supervised Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic.
What exactly did he learn from working with Kiffin that can be applied to working with the equally-outspoken Leach?
“Every coach is different,” Chun said. “I’ve learned a lot from Lane. I think we all take pride in what he did at FAU. He came in with a vision for our program. I know from spending time with coach Leach that he has a vision for what he wants to do. He’s so proud of this place and proud of all the people behind them.
“My leadership style is adaptive to who the person is. We want to make sure coach Leach and his assistants have what (they) need to be successful.”