In his three years as Florida Atlantic University’s Athletics Director, Pat Chun has been instrumental for the program’s progress. Hired in July of 2012, Chun inherited a fledgling Owls football team that had just finished 1-11 in 2011. Since then, the Owls have been making strides. The university made the jump from the Sun Belt to Conference USA in 2013, and under second year head football coach Charlie Partridge—Chun’s first fulltime football hire—the future seems bright for the program as it heads into its 15th season. Yet while Owls Football gets most of the press, because, well, football, Chun’s job extends far beyond the football program. Both FAU’s baseball and softball teams made appearances in the NCAA Tournament this year, the softball program’s first tournament appearance since 2006.
Pair the recent success and newfound excitement around campus with a young stadium that hosts the Major League Lacrosse team the Florida Launch, the nationally televised Boca Raton Bowl, and more, it is no surprise that Chun’s goal is to write history and build tradition at FAU. Here we spoke to Chun about the state of FAU Athletics, campus life, and building a tradition of winning.
The core values of your athletic department’s strategic plan – excellence, innovation, teamwork and integrity – what do each of these mean and how were they created?
CHUN: We went through a strategic planning process in January of 2013 – at the time I had been here about 3 or 4 months – we needed a thoughtful plan to help us and guide us in terms of goal setting and goal achievement. So we as an athletic department came together and decided, all right who are we? What do we stand for? What’s our mission? What’s our purpose? And what are our core values? That was the beauty of that mission statement and core values. Those are what we as a team believe we stand for, and they guide us as we make decisions over the last couple years and into this season and in the future.
Greg “Buddy” Howell during the Owls 2015 openign game against Tulsa.
Do you feel before you can actually be successful with these teams you have to have that plan in place before?
You have to have a plan for success. Failure to plan is a plan for failure.
One of your mottos is to build the foundation “brick by brick” – what does this mean?
Anything worth doing takes time at the end of the day. Building an organization, building sustainable excellence…there are no shortcuts to building excellence. It’s going to take building our foundation brick by brick, win by win, student athlete by student athlete. And when we say win, it’s much broader than what happens on the competitive field.
One of our goals was to have at least half of our student athletes to have a 3.0 GPA or better. When I got here in the fall of 2012, 45 percent of our student athletes were at a 3.0 or better. Fast-forward to this past year, and we’ve had at least 50 percent in both semesters. It’s wins; its having our students understanding the importance of academics and having the diligence and commitment to achieve academically and pursue degrees. It’s working in the community. It’s creating a culture where excellence radiates through everything we do, and that we’re going to live with the results.
I feel like if the culture of our organization is the student athletes are competing their tails off in the classroom, in the strength and conditioning area, competing their tails off in practice, we’re going to be happy with the results from all of our teams.
How has the relatively new stadium impacted the football team and the athletic department as a whole?
Number one, it impacts campus. In the late 90s, when Howard Schnellenberger was asked to build a football program, the [foundational] idea was to have a more traditional campus at Florida Atlantic University; a football program [is one of those] traditional things. Fast-forward to the late 2000s, when the stadium was approved, its biggest impact was on campus life. To give our students on a growing campus the ability to walk out of their dorms and go to a football game on Saturday is part of the mission of having a traditional campus.
From a football perspective, obviously, we have a first class facility to call home. But when you talk about exposure for Florida Atlantic, I was told by ESPN that we had about 2.5 million viewers last year for [the Boca Raton Bowl]. USA Soccer has been in our stadium three or four times, and we have the University of Miami to open at home this September, which is a near sellout (Friday, September 11). All these opportunities to showcase this wonderful university, that’s probably the biggest impact that stadium has had.
Going back on history and tradition, you guys obviously haven’t been around as long as some of the other major universities in Florida, so how are you guys working to build on that history and tradition that keeps students enrolling at FAU?
Well the most important thing is you have to start winning. So that’s why things like our strategic plan, the quality of coaches that we hire, and the quality of assistant coaches we have are important. Core values attract high character coaches who recruit high character kids. It’s a whole process for sustainable excellence.
Next year will complete my third year at FAU, and if you look at the caliber of the coaches that we have, the character of the coaches that we have, and the quality of student athletes that we have, they go hand in hand. We’ll build tradition as winning and championships start coming. But that’s really a byproduct of having a system in place where we’re recruiting the type of young people that want to make a difference in life and sports, have a great value system, and coaches that can develop them academically, athletically, and socially.
What has helped the recent success of the baseball and softball teams, and what does the future hold in store for these programs?
Traditionally they’ve been our strongest programs, and that dates back probably the last 15 or 20 years. Baseball and softball have had high caliber coaching, and I think it’s a byproduct of being in a region of the country that produces a high density of high school baseball and softball players. But make no mistake; our coaches do a wonderful job of developing our student athletes and attracting quality young people to want to be a part of our programs.
Take a look at our softball program this year. I think they went nine or so years before they last made the NCAA tourney, but coach Joan Joyce and her team really came together this year and probably had the best offseason they’ve had in the history of that program, and that manifested into the best season they’ve had in almost decade. They’re just more indicators. Baseball, softball, the GPAs, the hours of community service, record ticket sales, record fundraising; they’re all indicators that the trajectory of this athletic program is definitely trending upward.
Just how bright is the future for FAU athletics?
It’s extremely bright. I probably get the best view out of everyone because I get to see, spend time, and learn from the student athletes that we have here. We’re going to be as good as the student athletes that we recruit. Because of the quality of student athletes that want to be a part of this, the future is going to be extremely bright.
What’s the best thing about being the Athletic Director of FAU?
I’m passionate about college athletics. I’m passionate about people. This allows me the opportunity to mix both of those passions on a daily basis. I get to see student athletes, coaches, and staff members succeed at high levels and that’s probably the best part. When you see people be successful, when you see people battle back from adversity, when you see people go through a process and grow and learn—whether it’s winning championships, earning degrees, or making a difference no matter what it is on a daily basis—when you get to be around successful people and you watch them succeed, I think that’s probably the best part of being an Athletic Director.
Images courtesy of FAU