Lynn Hickey’s improbable journey to Eastern Washington University began with a late-January phone call from the parking lot at a Dairy Queen in south Texas.
On the other end was EWU President Mary Cullinan with an intriguing offer: Would Hickey be willing to serve as the school’s interim athletic director?
Recalled Hickey with a smile: “We had a great conversation, and I did get a Blizzard out of it at the end.”
By mid-February, Hickey got a taste of the real thing – or at least more snow than she’d ever seen in San Antonio. She was also knee-deep in the details of running the EWU athletic department.
Three months later, on a warm Wednesday morning at Reese Court, it was all worth it, the Blizzard with a cherry on top.
In a ceremony that came complete with a pep band, cheerleaders and hundreds of fans, athletes, and EWU employees, Cullinan introduced Hickey as the school’s Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics.
“This really is an exciting day,” said Cullinan, who cited Hickey’s long and successful career as a coach and administrator.
“I’m so proud of what we have accomplished, we’re on a powerful trajectory,” Cullinan said. “It’s time for Eastern to dominate the Big Sky, to win another national title or two.”
Hickey took it from there. She thanked Cullinan, the search committee and especially the employees in the athletic department who endured months of uncertainty after Bill Chaves left for North Dakota.
“They could have shut me down, and they didn’t,” Hickey said.
Instead, they found common ground.
Shortly after arriving in Cheney, “she came to talk to our team,” basketball coach Shantay Legans said. “That meant a lot.”
Since arriving on Feb. 12, Hickey was a regular at all Eastern sports events. Last weekend she was bundled up against a biting wind during a football scrimmage, smiling the whole time.
“I’m committed to being a person of service to this program, this university and this community,” Hickey said.
She also echoed Cullinan’s introductory remarks about “transforming lives” – in this case the 300-plus student-athletes at Eastern.
“It’s all about them,” Hickey said as she pointed to the students in the audience.
Hickey knows that better than most. A collegiate basketball player and later a Division I coach, she was a pioneer in promoting the welfare of all student-athletes.
“The challenge here is the same as at any other Division I campus,” said Hickey, who served for 18 years as athletic director at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“You have to balance a multimillion-dollar business, then making sure you’re taking care of 18-to-22-year-olds – and finding the resources,” Hickey said.
“Everybody is trying to find resources,” Hickey said. “We’ve got to do a better job of building relationships and finding new revenue.”
Fundraising promises to be a major part of Hickey’s job going forward. Eastern is falling behind its Big Sky rivals in facilities and infrastructure, and the department is burdened by a cumulative $5.8 million deficit.
In the short term, Hickey must make several crucial hires and fill that elusive 11th slot on the upcoming football schedule.
That topic was raised Wednesday by none other than football coach Aaron Best.
“What about that 11th game?” Best asked, tongue-in-cheek.
In a made-for-social-media moment, Hickey responded by telling Best and everyone else that Eastern hopes to wrap up a deal by the end of the week with a yet-to-be-named opponent.
Nailing down that 11th game hasn’t been easy, Hickey conceded. “A lot of people don’t want to play us,” she said.
For that, the school can thank some of Best’s predecessors, including longtime coach Dick Zornes.
Relating a recent conversation with Zornes, Hickey said she came away impressed with one comment in particular.
“He told me ‘Everybody needs to think more about how great Eastern is, not about what’s missing,’” Hickey said.