EWU AD finalists Lynn Hickey and Vince Otoupal make their case

EWU president Mary Cullinan is expected to name the new director of athletics on Wednesday, April 25


By Taylor Newquist, Reporter

Utah Valley University Athletic Director Vince Otoupal and EWU Interim Athletic Director Lynn Hickey presented their case to become EWU’s permanent athletic director earlier this week. Candidates outlined their goals to search committee members who chose Hickey and Otoupal from a pool of six candidates.

Otoupal spoke to the search committee and community members on Tuesday, April 17 in Spokane, and offered a “three-legged stool” approach to measure the success of a program depending on community involvement, academic success and on-field results. He outlined his 100-day plan, which started with analyzing scholarships.  

“Is our integrity unquestionable?” asked Otoupal.  “Are we being compliant? Are our academic efforts correct and are we following scholarship opportunities in a way that we can be successful?”

Otoupal has first-hand experience with scholarship constraints in college athletics. While playing football at Stanford University, Otoupal was dropped from the team before his senior season to give his scholarship to an incoming freshman. Stanford hired head coach Bill Walsh for $1 million, and his new recruitment of All-American players had the priority on the 11 scholarships the team had left to offer.

“They overrecruited and decided I wasn’t worth having around,” Otoupal said in a May 21, 1992 issue of The Stanford Daily. “I don’t have a problem with coach Walsh or anyone there now[…] my problem is with the previous coaches and the department.”

At the public forum Otoupal’s ultimate barometer for gauging the university’s scholarships is to ask, “are we following the mission of EWU?”

Otoupal then went to the second part of his 100-day plan, fundraising, where he highlighted the importance of making connections in the community, then building those relationships to find the right donors for the right projects.

“We get the gift and we win,” Otoupal said. “We don’t get the gift, and we don’t win. If we don’t get the gift let’s figure out how to redirect that ask so we can get that donor, those fans, those corporate sponsors involved with what we’re doing.”

Otoupal recommended another potential source of revenue by expanding sponsorships across EWU athletics.

“We’ve got some sponsorships that we have the opportunity to do,” Otoupal said. “We need to get into the weeds a little bit on that because I think we’re ready for that, and I don’t know if we’ve had a chance to really explore that.”

He also hopes to expand the fan experience with greater access to games starting with more frequent use of live streams and more involvement on social media.

“We are going to do some crazy stuff and half of them aren’t going to work,” Otoupal said. “But half of them are going to work, and we’re going to capitalize on those things.”

EWU Interim Athletic Director Lynn Hickey delivered her speech to search committee members Thursday, April 19 in Spokane.  She emphasized building the brand of EWU athletics to make the school a more accessible and attractive destination to incoming students.

“Due to the visibility of athletics and due to our American culture, this sports stuff has been put on a high pedestal and probably overemphasized,” said Hickey. “But it is a piece of our campus culture that if we utilize it well, if we can invest in it appropriately, and if you’re successful it can have a tremendous impact on the campus. It can open doors to other things on campus as far as donations, giving and visibility.”

Hickey believes that athletics on a campus need to do three things for the university: provide fun and enjoyable entertainment, recruit students and staff, and engage the community.   

“With the community of Cheney, we need to be their little darlins’,” Hickey said. “We need to have every elementary kid, every middle school kid, the high school should be there, so that our brand overtakes that town. Then hopefully we can start to do the same thing in Spokane.”

As part of building the Eagle brand, Hickey referred to common hand-signals and traditions top athletic departments share with their fans to build loyalty in the community. She also urged EWU fans to ask shops in Spokane for more Eastern apparel to be sold, and cited the football team as a way to sell fandom to people living in Spokane.

One of the biggest problems Hickey currently sees on the EWU campus is the lack of athletic infrastructure. She said that the student athlete experience should be the driving force behind investing in new facilities because of the amount of time they spend there.

“We have some big facility issues,” Hickey said. “They are very visible and we need to answer those. Right now, at Eastern we’re a little short changed, so we’ve got to find a way to address all that infrastructure and give them the experience that they need to have.”

Hickey also noted that she would like to see the operation budget go up $4-5 million.

EWU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Scott Gordon said that EWU president Mary Cullinan’s decision will be announced on Wednesday, April 25.