Everybody said the right things. System President Dr. Chuck Welch detailed the laborious extent of the search for Arkansas State
athletic director Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics. He spoke of his meetings with Jeff Purinton, most recently of the University of Alabama, and revealed the praise surrounding his selection. Welch then offered a list of attributes that not only seemed endless, but almost made Purinton seem more qualified to lead NATO rather than just a mere Group of Five athletics program.
Purinton himself, projecting an aura of almost painful modesty, assumed the podium and then immediately shared it with his wife and two daughters. He then laid out a five point plan for his administration, the fifth of which was to deliver championships. Purinton, never before an AD but seemingly forever a man placed in plum positions of power, exuded a prodigious amount of aw shucks for a man who has golfed with both Bobby Bowden and Nick Saban. He seemed much like his moniker suggests – a quiet, almost Puritanical man of principle and virtue.
“I’m not gonna sit the the AD’s suite and drink wine,” he declared, asserting that he was a “people-person” more comfortable with mingling with folks than with the program’s deeper pockets. Echoing the words of Dr. Welch, Purinton would say that the “fan experience” was a top priority, perhaps signaling that the call to reach rank-and-file fans had been heard.
In addition to Purinton’s earthiness was a blunt honesty. No, he didn’t have answers for the NIL brouhaha that is putting college sports in disarray, nor did he have a revealing plan for a new softball program. But when asked about reconciling the distance between Alabama’s athletic budget and Arkansas State’s, Purinton didn’t flinch.
“You have to manage your numbers at Alabama just like you do at Arkansas State,” he said to a round of good-natured chuckles. He admitted that he might have to get “more creative” in Jonesboro. After all, the Crimson Tide enjoys a $170M operating budget, compared to Arkansas State’s heroically small $40M (or so) allotment. Still, Purinton was quick to praise the campus facilities and the work of Butch Jones, whom he has had significant intersection. (I don’t think we’ll wonder if Jones is a “Purinton guy” in the days ahead.)
Much Is Asked of Purinton
Jeff Purinton arrives to Jonesboro with an inbox overflowing with requests and needs, including the hiring of a new tennis coach, the creation of a new softball program, and renewed connection with fans who never quite warmed to former Vice Chancellor Tom Bowen.
But perhaps Purinton’s most daunting challenge is to restore a measure of greatness to Arkansas State’s “Big Three” programs. When he assumes his office (which Purinton admitted he hadn’t even seen at the time of his presser), he’ll inherit a last place football team, a sixth place men’s basketball team, and a baseball team currently dwelling in the Sun Belt basement. In response to a question posed by Jeff Reed of A-State Nation, Purinton insisted that the state of Red Wolves athletics isn’t as bad as some fear.
“I don’t think we’re looking at a rebuild” said Purinton. He implied that all the pieces were in place for success, starting with Butch Jones and his “not a rebuild” of the football team.
The new Vice Chancellor admitted he had things to learn regarding the Sun Belt, which has recently expanded its footprint with the additions of James Madison, Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion (and subtraction of UT-Arlington and UA Little Rock). Dr. Welch began the press conference emphasizing the need to move fast on hiring Bowen’s replacement, and its understandable that Purinton isn’t quite up to speed.
Let us hope he’s a quick learner.
PHOTO CREDIT: Arkansas State University