St. Elizabeth’s Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio is one of the best hospitals in the Midwest, recognized for its high performance by U.S. News & World Report. For Owls fans however, the hospital will now be known as the birthplace of two of the newest members to FAU Athletics: Carl Pelini and Pat Chun.
Both the 44-year-old head football coach and the 37-year-old Chun, FAU’s new athletics director, were born there. The man tasked with revitalizing FAU sports is equipped with 15 years of experience at Ohio State, his alma mater, where he worked his way up to executive associate athletic director for external relations by the time he left.
With $130 million in revenue, Ohio State had the second richest athletic program in the country in 2011, compared to $19 million for FAU, according to USA Today. He’s quick to not draw comparisons to his tenure in Columbus with what to expect in Boca though.
“It’s not about re-creating what we’ve done at Ohio State,” Chun admitted. “It’s more about, let’s just be as good as we can possibly be. We’re going to take this day by day and try to understand the things we can be good at.”
When Pat Chun was offered the chance to become a Division I athletics director, his first thought was to call his wife Vanessa to tell her the good news.
She didn’t answer.
“Ironically, she was coaching our 7-year-old’s softball team, so I couldn’t even get a hold of her,” Chun said.
After they finally spoke, the couple agreed FAU made sense for multiple reasons.
“It’s a good fit for my wife,” Chun said. “She loves the warm weather, and our kids are at an age where they’re mobile.”
Once his initial questions of where the program was headed and what they stand for were answered by President Mary Jane Saunders, whom Chun calls “a dynamic leader,” the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I’ve always aspired to be a Division I-A athletics director. There’s 120 of those jobs. All the stars have to be aligned,” Chun said. “When you meet President Saunders and the people on campus, people on staff and you talk to some of the students, there’s a pulse here at FAU that wants to beat a little bit faster. Beat a little bit louder. They’re looking for the right person to kind of move in that direction. As you do your due diligence and do all your studying, when the offer comes, you realize if you get lucky to get the position, you can make a difference here.”
A major reason Chun was hired is because of his ability as a fundraiser. At Ohio State, Chun helped fundraising increase by 20 percent every year for the athletic department: a total of $117.8 million over three years.
“Well, that’s his greatest strength. Pat is passionate about higher education. He’s passionate about athletics. When he gets to know people, he really really shares that passion,” Gene Smith, Ohio State athletics director said. “He’s skilled at listening and communicating in a lot of different areas. He’s a great fundraiser.”
Chun is confident he can help improve on the $1.35 million that former AD Craig Angelos raised last year. The plan, the execution, is simple: vigorously sell people on FAU.
“We’re going to make sure we’re talking about all the right things and bragging about FAU. All the good things we have done, and all the good things we’re going to do,” Chun said. “There’s no rocket science to this whole fundraising deal. We’ve got to go out into the community and deliver our message and try to rally some people around making a difference at FAU.”
Being a fundraiser at Ohio State meant never closing your wallet. Martin Jarmond, Ohio State’s associate athletics director for development, laughs about the time he and Chun pulled out all the stops for a donor at a restaurant.
“I remember the guy ordered a bottle, like a 2 or $300 bottle. The rest of the way after that, me and PC are both sweating bullets hoping we don’t have to pay for this bill because it’s going to come out of our pocket. It’s one of those moments where we’re both thinking the same thing,” Jarmond said. “It worked out at the end. But, that was a tough dinner because you’re sitting there watching the alcohol flow and it’s like ‘oh gosh’.”
On regular days, Chun isn’t as kind, Jarmond quips.
“He’s cheap. I’ve always got to pay when I go to lunch with him,” Jarmond joked. “You can go ahead and write that. Martin Jarmond said even though he’s cheap, he’s still my guy.”
One of the things Pat Chun is good at, really good at, is taking care of his family. So good that other men want to be like him.
“For me, I don’t have a family yet. I learned a lot from him just how to be a husband and a father,” Jarmond said. “That’s his best trait and attribute is he’s such a great dad and great husband to his family.”
Chun married Vanessa on Aug. 3, 2002 in Phoenix, Ariz. The two met as students at Ohio State two years before. Vanessa was a softball player, Chun was working in sports information. He recalls the first time they met.
“I just ran into her somewhere and I used my normal sarcastic charm, conned her into going out with me on a date,” Chun joked. “She probably regrets that.”
The date was set. The venue was the mini golf course. The results are a little hazy to Chun, but he takes a guess anyway as to the victor.
“I think I won because she’s terrible. She’s exceptional at softball, but other sports she struggles,” Chun said. “She might disagree with that, but if memory serves me correctly I beat her at putt-putt.”
Ten years later, they now have three daughters, Vanna, Kennedy and Gretta. His main priority in life is to serve them and his wife.
“It’s the most important thing to me. Obviously all the goals in my life surround me being the best husband and parent I can be,” Chun said. “At the end of the day, my family is my motivation. They give purpose to what I do in life.”
Chun wants to help elevate FAU to a higher level, but during his downtime, he answers to no one but his wife and kids.
“I’m not one who believes the work and life balance thing is the idealistic theory in my opinion. In today’s world you have to prioritize things. You’ve got to make time for your family,” Chun said. “When I’m working, I’m working. But when I’m at home with the kids the phone is off, and I’m not picking up.”
Chun is an early riser. It endeared him well with his former Ohio State boss.
“We usually were the first ones in the office,” Smith noted. “He’s got unbelievable work ethic. Nobody’s going to outwork him. He has all the requisite talents and skills to help FAU move forward.”
Jarmond was hired by Chun two and a half years ago and says he’s going to miss having him around.
“He’s been the best boss that I have ever had because he’s been so supportive,” Jarmond said. “He’s tough on you when he needs to be. He’s honest with you. That’s what makes him such an effective leader and a great manager.”
Chun learned from closely following Smith, the man he calls his role model.
“I spent a lot of time with him. Included him on almost all of my major decisions that I had to deal with. Just make sure that he continued to evolve his leadership skills,” Smith said. “At Ohio State, we have a large employee base. You ultimately have to be a good leader of people. That’s what I really tried to help with him was that.”
Jarmond is confident Chun is ready to lead the Owls to the next level.
“This is his first athletic director job so you better believe he’s going to put his all into it. He understands how important this is and how important this time is for Florida Atlantic. He really gets that,” Jarmond said. “He is the kind of guy that’s a get it done guy. You can quote me on that. He’s a get it done guy.”
Before he gets it done, Chun will take a backseat. For the first 90- 100 days, he says he told the search committee he will be the chief listening officer. Chun wants to be a sponge, soaking in as much knowledge about the school and South Florida he can before making any major decisions.
“I really got to get to know the staff at FAU, the community, to figure out exactly what we can do. Every athletic department in the country wants to be good but everything’s relative,” Chun said. “I’m just going to ask the right questions and talk to the people that really know this place and can really help my learning curve with things we can be successful at right away and things we can’t be successful at at all.”
Something Chun already knows he wants to do is grow the brand of FAU. At Ohio State, he and the staff created a Buckeyes Facebook page, which was the first program to have over a million likes.
“When you know how engaged the students are and how they want to be, it’s a good medium to communicate with a certain demographic. I’m very aware of that,” Chun said. “We will be very smart and strategic with our social media presence.”
This fall, the Cleveland Cavs fan will be taking his talents to a new city, with a new job and more power than he’s ever had. I ask him a simple question: How is life going to change for you now?
“I don’t know,” Chun responded.
“And I think that’s the fun of it.”