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Washington State’s Pat Chun discusses coaching hires, impact of coronavirus during Northwest Passages forum

Washington State athletic director Patrick Chun has hired new head coaches in four sports in the past two years, including football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and baseball. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

When Pat Chun stepped in as Washington State’s athletic director in January 2018, he was urged to stabilize the financial debt the department had accrued by spending big on capital projects, and he was encouraged to use his fundraising expertise so the school could amplify its donor base.

Chun has overseen a few record-setting fundraising campaigns since he accepted the position 28 months ago, but he’s also been preoccupied with a few unforeseen items on the to-do list. In his first 24 months on the job, Chun has conducted four coaching searches to find new faces to lead WSU’s football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and baseball programs.

In a live-streamed video interview on The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages forum, Chun covered a variety of topics, including the strategy he’s used to identify new coaches for each of the school’s “major sports.”

The Spokesman-Review

Much of that, Chun said, is realizing what’s worked in the past. When he arrived, the AD met with a few of the school’s active coaches – football’s Mike Leach, volleyball’s Jen Greeny and soccer’s Todd Shulenberger – but he also made an effort to communicate with former coaches who’ve won, and won big, in Pullman.

Chatting with the likes of Tony Bennett, Jim Walden, Mike Price and George Raveling, he noticed parallels in the formula.

“You could just go right down the list and start taking notes,” Chun said. “All right, these are the types of people they are, these are the things they focused on in recruiting. These are kind of the student-athletes they recruited here. It’s like, all right as change is happening, with every coaching search you get a little bit better. We believe there’s a DNA that has been successful at Washington State. … The culture of an organization should be apparent from the outside looking in.”

It was also evident the coaches who succeeded had a distinct identity – in Leach’s case, more of a brand – that endeared them to fans and attracted recruits to WSU.

“We’re a blue-collar place, and we want the type of coaches that value people, that value this institution, but also have a little curveball,” Chun said. “At the end of the day, the coaches that have been the most successful here run a pack-line defense, do the Air Raid, do the one-back offense.”

For the second time in approximately two years, WSU’s football team experienced a tragic loss last week, learning last Tuesday that starting safety Bryce Beekman had died at home in Pullman – approximately 26 months after former quarterback Tyler Hilinski died by suicide, shaking the Pullman community and to a larger extent the college football world.

While the Whitman County Coroner’s Office spends the next two to three months investigating Beekman’s death and determining a cause, Chun has ensured football players who wish to speak with psychiatrists, mental health specialists or other professionals have the appropriate resources.

“From a resource standpoint, all our resources are available, whether it’s via Zoom … or conference calls, or FaceTime,” Chun said. “… It’s been unique, it’s been tough. Bryce’s mother and uncle made the trip from Baton Rouge. They finally were able to get clearance and they were here the last 48 hours.”

The reality of the college football season being canceled, or moved, is something Chun and other ADs have considered in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’ve begun the process of figuring out, ‘All right, if we get started on X date, this is what it looks like. If it gets started on Y date, what does it look like? If we get started on Z date,’ ” Chun said. “Obviously, we’re one of the three schools in our conference that had no spring football.”

Every school in the country has endured the financial fallout of coronavirus, forfeiting money from the NCAA Tournament and other sources of Pac-12 distribution. The Pac-12 Network, for example, was scheduled to broadcast six home WSU baseball games as well as the spring football scrimmage.

“Right now, we’re estimating a 5% reduction overall (in Pac-12 distribution), which is very significant for us,” Chun said. “I think the variable for us right now is what will be the total impact on fundraising, our Cougar Athletic Fund. Fortunately for us, we’ve got through most of February. Our numbers were trending.”