(This question-and-answer session with Brad Teague, UCA athletic director, first appeared on ucasports.com)
Q: The football home opener is always a big deal, but this year there is an added element with the unveiling of the luxury suites at Bear Hall. They’re obviously a great attraction for those who will be utilizing them, but in what ways do they benefit the entire program? Secondly, what is the progress report as we are just over two months from the home opener?
A: The expansion on the east side has a large impact in so many ways. Visually, the stadium looks fantastic with a matching east span similar to the west. The program’s image is also enhanced due to luxury suites. The game day experience, especially for the suiteholder, will be exciting. It is nice to have premium seating options available to our supporters, and encouraging that there is a demand for such. It is further proof in the growth and development of our program, and the increasing interest. Another benefit created by the suites is that it opens up some of the existing seating on the west side, which creates more and improved seating opportunities for our Purple Circle members.
As for the progress, it is coming along very nicely. Nabholz Construction has been a tremendous company to have complete our project. They anticipate all to be on track, which would have the building completed by Aug. 15. We’re excited to get all the furnishings in place and see how they’ll look come Sept. 15.
Q: Before we make it to the home opener, we’ve got two games on the road beginning with the season opener at Ole Miss – UCA’s first football opponent from the SEC, the premiere conference in college football. It’s also a place you are quite familiar with, having been there from 1996-2003. How much are you looking forward to this matchup? Any tips for UCA fans visiting Oxford on game day for the first time?
A: This is our first major conference opponent, which is exciting. I am looking forward to playing an SEC opponent more than playing against Ole Miss. It will be a tough place to play but a great place to visit for our fans. I anticipate many will make the relatively short trip and experience the tailgating in the Grove or around their campus. Traffic will be an issue, so arriving early and preparing to walk is advised.
Q: The suites and athletic offices will be done this fall. There have been many other projects completed in recent years, including the striped turf, strength & conditioning complex, baseball stadium, track/soccer complex, softball stadium, etc. What is the next big construction project in the works?
A: Our next major project is completing a fieldhouse for our Olympic sports. Our men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s track and field and cross country, softball, and tennis all compete on the southeast corner of our campus. We need one field house to locate all locker rooms, offices, and equipment rooms in their area. We added this endeavor to our master plan and will begin working on sources of funding.
Q: In the span of a little more than a year, former Sugar Bear volleyball and basketball coaches Steven McRoberts and Matt Daniel accepted jobs at Tulsa and Marshall, respectively, in Conference USA. Assistant coaches in other sports have moved on to places such as Arizona State, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh and Texas Tech in recent years. Do you see UCA as a place that can consistently attract high-quality up-and-coming coaches and springboard careers?
A: UCA can be that place because UCA is a great place to coach and Conway is a great place to live. In addition to being a beautiful campus, strong academic institution and in a very nice town, UCA has always been very competitive athletically. As we’ve enjoyed quite a bit of success in Division I, many have taken notice — including administrators and coaches at other schools. It is a place that lends itself to being attractive to quality coaches and people. Each coach is different, but coming to UCA and being successful will certainly benefit the resume of any coach. And though we’d always like to keep our high-quality coaches, having other people coming after them is a good problem to have. It’s good for the perception of our program to have a reputation as a place that produces top-notch coaches.
Q: On the topic of coaches, Sandra Rushing was recently hired to head the women’s basketball program after coach Daniel’s departure for Marshall. Coach Rushing has had incredible success during her career, and you got to see some of that firsthand during your time together at Delta State. Aside from the record, which speaks for itself, what is it about her that struck such a chord with you?
A: What impresses me as much as anything about coach Rushing is that she works extremely hard and often. She is dedicated to recruiting quality young women. Coach Rushing impressed me very much at Delta State and her teams performed even better after I left there. Our Sugar Bears will be in great shape with her at the helm. She is a person who wants to know our fans and supporters and will always have time for a visit. There is a reception planned for coach Rushing on Tuesday at Mike’s Place beginning at 5 p.m. and we hope that our fans will take advantage of this opportunity to meet and visit with her.
Q: At this level of Division I athletics, outside the scope of the huge TV contracts that benefit some leagues, private donations are essential in running a successful athletic department. How does the strength of the Purple Circle compare to when you arrived in Conway five years ago? What do think is necessary to help it continue to grow?
A: We have had success in our private funding and it has allowed us to do more in facilities, recruiting, and coaches contracts. Our fans have invested greatly in our programs and have been instrumental in what we’ve accomplished. But, the economy has been a challenge and our new suites have moved some revenue from the PC toward that project. So there have been some hurdles. All challenges are opportunities, however, so we will continue to promote and spread the purple.
Q: This year’s Bear Nation Celebration is coming up in late August. Last year was the inaugural BNC, and this year’s event promises to be even better. What changes are in store for this year?
A: The purpose of the BNC is to recognize our student-athletes while having our great Bear supporters attending. We want to focus more attention on our student-athletes and allow more interaction with them. They and our coaches will have a greater presence. We will also have an enhanced dinner. Chef Knapp at Aramark has put together a very nice menu for the evening.
Q: UCA has not only been able to avoid APR penalties (the measuring stick for academic progress in the NCAA, but has led the Southland in football APR in the last two years (one of only five schools in the country to lead its league the past two seasons) and also led all Division I schools in Arkansas. This year 184 athletes were named to the Southland Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll, including a league-best 94 in the fall and 90 (second-most) in the spring. What measures are in place here to help facilitate academic success?
A: We have a strong academic program at UCA. It’s not any easy academic institution, so the success we have in academics is truly a credit to our academic staff and coaches for placing quite the emphasis on graduation. Our staff does more than maintain eligibility; they make UCA a great place to be so our student-athletes excel in the classroom and want to stay at UCA.
Q: With Oral Roberts joining the Southland Conference this year, the league not only gains a tradition-rich program with national name recognition, but UCA also gains a new conference foe nearest to Conway. With ORU in the fold, Houston Baptist coming next year, and more potential additions being explored, how do you feel about the league’s membership moving forward?
A: The Southland Conference is very strong. We lost three quality institutions but we are replacing them with quality as well. With the addition of Oral Roberts, a name many are familiar with due to its tradition, the conference will see more exposure in Oklahoma, which I think we will benefit from. Our commissioner, Tom Burnett, is a strong leader who enhances our conference image. We are in a great place now with many institutions looking to our conference for membership. We are taking campus tours in the next couple of months at the University of New Orleans, Abilene Christian University, and University of the Incarnate Word. This provides the possibility of 14 total conference members if all are selected. Even without any of these three, we are still at 11 strong members of our conference, nine of which sponsor football.