We’re not the boss of Jeff, but we’re evaluating his performance anyway
One year ago, Arkansas State moved on from Tom Bowen to name Jeff Purinton the new
Athletic Director Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics. Purinton arrived to Jonesboro by way of Tuscaloosa, where he had spent a good number of years operating the switches and levers of University of Alabama’s national championship machine. His mission was to fill a vacuum that wasn’t actually created by Bowen’s departure, but more by his year-long lack of participation in the role.
Young and eager, Purinton declared during his introductory pressor that he “wasn’t here to drink wine” with well-heeled supporters of the program. He had priorities, beginning with “improving the fan experience.” That idea manifested into the BetSaracen Beer Garden (which has since evolved from confining beer to the Garden to allowing beverages stadium-wide) and a partnership with REVEL-XP, a company that manages tailgating packages and amenities.
Neither action dramatically moved the needle, but the effort merits an “A.” Purinton recognized that A-State’s mom-and-pop approach to tailgating and teetotaling didn’t fit the profile of a modern athletics program.
But booze and nifty tailgating add-ons wasn’t the real Priority of Purinton in Year One. The problems with Red Wolves Athletics was more systemic – there was no plan to execute a vision because there was no obvious vision. The program was losing fan loyalty because the program seemed too loyal to its old and easy ways. As the Sun Belt grew in strength, Arkansas State (a conference original) was rapidly fading from relevance, with all the big ticket programs finding themselves anchored to the bottom of the standings.
Though the fans could have certainly used a bombastic voice, Purinton chose to administer his methods quietly – at least, at first. For months, as the football team dropped close games and the both basketball programs continued to flounder, Purinton worked quietly behind the scenes – presumably not drinking wine, but who could be certain? The townspeople became restless, demanding to see THE PLAN, yearning for any semblance of a RESULT.
In December of 2022, Howlraiser voiced its concern about the state of Arkansas State athletics, using crude imagery and blunt language to say, in no uncertain terms, that fans are tired of sucking ass. A month later, the Arkansas State Athletics Department hosted a star-studded State of the Pack for which everyone was invited. Among the revelations: a new Red Wolves NIL collective was in the works, which is now fully operational, headed by former state representative Davey Carter and NFL superstar Demaro Davis.
Both the State of the Pack event and the NIL Collective provided something that fans had been clamoring for: participation. The NIL Collective, or The ImPACKt Club, enables fans to pitch in what they can when they want to. In a college athletics universe where fans seem to have zero input, the ImPACKt Club feels like that we have at least a pinkie on the steering wheel.
But Purinton’s first true test of leadership arrived in March with the firing of head basketball coach Mike Balado. In public terms, such a move was fairly easy – Balado had one winning season in six tries. But aspects of the behind-the-scenes logistics was difficult, not the least of which was making the right choice to fill the vacancy.
Everybody had opinions. To Purinton’s credit, he stuck with his own, naming former colleague Bryan Hodgson to the post. While there were other candidates with more head coaching experience, Hodgson was positioned as a recruiting whisperer carved from the very successful Nate Oats coaching tree. Hodgson’s first act as coach was something of a sensation – he pulled Caleb Fields, Terrence Ford, Izaiyah Nelson and Julian Lual out of the transfer portal. For his next trick he brought in three big forwards who could score: Dyondre Dominguez (6’9″ Jr., UMass), LaQuill Hardnett (6’8″ Sr. Buffalo) and Red Wolves legacy Freddy Hicks Jr. (6’6″ sophomore, Tarlington).
Adding Hodgson to the Red Wolves Corporate Family was good work. But also leaving a few staff members to continue their projects was a smart move, too. Purinton and head football coach Butch Jones had history together at Alabama, and it wasn’t much of surprise to see Purinton get 100% behind Jones’ efforts to rebuild the team. Furthermore, women’s head basketball coach Destinee Rogers wasn’t a Purinton hire, but thus far he’s allowed the young coach to grow as leader of the program.
Yes, baseball really blows right now. Everybody has an opinion (but not a dollar) to fix it. But the moment baseball enters the sights of Jeff Purinton, you can bet it will improve.
Photo Credits: Me and Many