“I will do my part to make sure we compete and act with integrity and class.”
As a kid growing up near Cleveland, sports and devoted sports fans surrounded Patrick Chun. He became one himself, rooting for the Cavaliers, Indians, and Browns, even when they weren’t winning. Chun’s passion led him to Ohio State University and eventually to leadership in their athletic department.
But as much as he loves sports, Chun gives credit to his parents for instilling a devotion to education and a powerful work ethic. It all came together as he took the mantle of athletic director, first at Florida Atlantic University and now at Washington State.
Chun’s parents came to Ohio from South Korea in 1969 in pursuit of the American dream, says Chun, and “like a lot of immigrants, their dreams manifest themselves in their children.” They settled first in Youngstown, where his father was a taekwondo instructor at the downtown YMCA and his mother worked at a grocery store. They moved to a suburb of Cleveland when the steel industry in Youngstown declined.
They pushed Chun to work hard as well. “My first job was being a paperboy, and Cleveland winters are character builders,” he says with a wry grin.
He also grew up playing baseball, basketball, and football, but didn’t play at the collegiate level as he headed to Ohio State. “Like a lot of kids here in Washington, I wanted to go to the land-grant institution in my own state, in Columbus,” says Chun. “I wasn’t good enough to play sports there, so I graduated with a degree in journalism and wanted to be the next great sportswriter.”
Chun learned that sportswriting would be working around sports but not working in sports, so he took a sports information internship with Ohio State’s athletic department. That transformed into a full-time job for 15 years with his alma mater.
He started traveling with the baseball and football team and “got to see firsthand the extraordinary impact of good coaching on student athletes,” says Chun. “They’re impacted by their environment, and leave school confident, ready to lead companies, lead teams, and become great parents and citizens in their communities.”
Athletic Director Gene Smith took Chun under his wing, “taught me the business and helped me understand what it takes to be a leader,” says Chun. He made the leap to development and fundraising at Ohio State, ultimately becoming executive associate athletics director, where over four years he oversaw record fundraising years of $42 million in 2012, $41 million in 2011, and $39 million in 2010, as well as a record $128 million multimedia deal.
Yet, with all his success, Chun yearned for something more. “I realized I needed to get out of my comfort zone in Ohio,” he says, noting that he married his wife Natalie (also an Ohio State alum) there, his kids were born there, and family and friends lived in the area. “I went to college and never left.”
Florida Atlantic University presented just the opportunity he needed: a position as an athletic director. The decision wasn’t easy, though. “It’s a part of the world we’d never think about moving to, to take over a broken athletic program,” says Chun. “But I had to say I jumped off the plank; I needed to see how good I can be.”
Starting in 2012, Chun’s tenure at FAU led to success across academics, athletics, student-athlete development, and fundraising. Chun’s belief in education was manifested in FAU athletes’ academic growth: Entering the 2017–18 academic year, they posted a combined GPA above 3.0 for each of the past four semesters, a first in school history. The school’s athletic program won a national award for best practices in their programming for student-athletes, including a comprehensive life skills program for the football team that featured career services and a concerted effort to provide community service to the South Florida area.
Chun also oversaw significant fundraising and athletic achievements at FAU. The institution received its largest single gift, signed several partnership agreements worth millions, and built and started a number of facilities. The FAU Owls over the last few years posted impressive seasons in football, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, beach volleyball, men’s and women’s tennis, baseball, and softball, among others.
After previous Athletic Director Bill Moos ’73 took the same position at the University of Nebraska last fall, Chun was hired by WSU after a national search. In January, he became the first Asian-American athletic director at a Power 5 conference school, and the fourteenth person to lead Cougar athletics.
Chun couldn’t be happier. He says there are three main reasons why he was ecstatic about coming to Washington State. First, he was drawn by the national reputation of Kirk Schulz as a university president who understands and supports athletics.
Second, WSU and the Cougar family are well-known and respected for their devotion. “I believe there are less than half a dozen schools in the country that have this kind of affinity, this kind of love and loyalty for their institution,” says Chun.
He also knew Pullman was a welcoming community, an important point as he brings his family to the town: wife Natalie; daughters Vanna, Kennedy, and Gretta; and their dog Little Brother.
The Cougar family also convinces Chun that the greatest days of WSU athletics lie ahead.
“You can change the world from WSU. It transcends athletics; just look at engineering, farming, business, the wine industry, the Murrow College. The people who come out of this place, they change history,” he says. “We have a responsibility in the athletic department to model and mirror that.”
Chun sees WSU’s competitiveness in sports tied to its educational mission. “Cougs want to win, and Cougs want to win at the highest level. We all want to win championships, and to develop young people who will get degrees and go on to do great things.”
Hearkening back to his own upbringing and the values of hard work and education, Chun makes sure to point out what’s most important to him, and what he hopes all Cougs will help achieve: impact on students.
Even in the short time he’s been here so far, Chun has made it a point to meet and listen to members of the tennis, basketball, golf, and football teams.
“I get the joy of going to the Cougar Athletic Training table with student athletes,” he says with a smile. “I like to plop down next to some of the 18- to 20-year-olds and make it as awkward as humanly possible, just start talking about their life. It’s the best part of the job.”
As the students talk about why they’re at WSU and what they want to accomplish, Chun wonders, “What can we do, as an athletic department, to help them achieve their dreams?”