By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Prior to accepting his position at Washington State University (WSU) as its athletic director, Patrick Chun had been to Pullman one other time. He did not forget the experience.
Chun was introduced as the new Director of Athletics for WSU this past January after a nationwide search. He is the first Asian American to lead a Power 5 Conference athletic department. The Power 5 includes the biggest colleges competing in athletics, divided into five conferences across the nation.
“I’m the son of hardworking and proud immigrants from South Korea,” Chun said at his introductory news conference in Pullman.
“The significance is not lost on me,” Chun told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “I know as an Asian American, I’m sitting in this unique chair.” He was quick to point out that there were many people along the way that took him under their wing. Former Ohio State University athletic director Andy Geiger and current athletic director Gene Smith were two people who groomed Chun to lead.
“I’m the product of being around some really great people.” Chun intends to help and mentor others, as Geiger and Smith have aided him. He hopes to bring more diversity within the administration of university athletics.
“We service a diverse group of athletes, and we need to make sure all voices are heard and ensuring that they become the best they can be.”
Chun always wanted to work in sports. Growing up in Ohio, he recalled the futility of Cleveland sports teams. The 43-year-old pointed out that this was before LeBron James brought a title to “The Land” and the Cleveland Indians appeared in the World Series a couple years back. His father is a Taekwondo instructor (who still teaches to this day) and grew up in a sports environment.
“There are so many life lessons that you can learn by being involved in sports.” Aside from Taekwondo, in which he earned a black belt, Chun played football, basketball, and baseball.
Chun attended Ohio State University. He worked within the athletic department for 15 years, starting as a student intern and then as a full-time intern. He was named the school’s director of development in 2005, with a focus on major gifts and endowment projects. External relations and fundraising became Chun’s specialty. The Buckeye alum worked his way up within the athletic department to executive associate athletic director. Chun then went on to Florida Atlantic University (FAU), where he was the athletic director from 2012, until taking the WSU job this year. At FAU, he oversaw the athletics department and helped improve student grade point averages and graduation success rates.
In 2016, the school was awarded the National Association of Academic Advisors Model Practices Award for displaying best practices in their programming for student-athletes. In addition, Chun helped secure a $16 million gift from a donor to design and construct a new athletics facility. It was the largest single gift in school history. He also helped oversee the building of a new $800,000 FAU Tennis Complex — funded primarily through private philanthropy. Chun also helped with FAU signing a 10-year agreement with Learfield Sports as its exclusive corporate sponsorship sales unit, which is expected to generate $25 million in revenue.
Fundraising has become a calling card for Chun, who focuses on relationships when it comes to securing donations.
“Fundraising is a team sport and you have to understand its role in higher education,” said Chun. “It is upon us to meet people and make sure they (alumni) can make a difference with philanthropy.”
Known as a people person, Chun emphasizes the extraordinary things that philanthropy can do for a school with a passionate alumni base. “You never pay back, you always pay forward,” said Chun.
Smith, Ohio State’s current athletic director and mentor to Chun, told the Seattle Times, “Pat is one of the premier, young athletic administrators in the country.” He added, “He was my right-hand man when he was here (Ohio State University). His expertise and biggest asset is external relations. He was a huge fundraiser for us and raised millions of dollars.” Smith is one of a handful of Black athletic directors in Power 5 conferences in the nation.
Chun was introduced around the time that Cougars quarterback Tyler Hilinksi committed suicide.
The news conference which announced his hiring was postponed due to Hilinski’s death.
“My thoughts went out to the family of Tyler Hilinski.” Chun added, “I was able to come to this community and experience how wonderful, loyal, and supportive they were.” He remarked at how special it was to see first hand how caring and loving the community was during this time.
“Although there is no roadmap on how to handle such a tragedy, I saw how well-equipped the school was in dealing with the trauma. They were proactive and it’s a great sign of the leadership here.”
Chun signed a five-year contract worth $650,000 annually, according to WSU school President Kirk Schulz. The contract contains two main incentives — a $25,000 bonus tied to a specific fundraising goal, and a $25,000-per-year accrued retention bonus to be paid out after five years, if Chun completes his initial contract with WSU.
Chun is married to a former Ohio State University softball player and they have three daughters.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.