NATURALLY STATED: Kansas may be holding seat for ASU athletic director

The day after the University of Kansas fired its athletic director, Arkansas State University Athletic Director Terry Mohajir stood in the center of his office at First National Bank Arena in Jonesboro, measuring the seat of a metallic bar chair with a ruler.

After a few slides of the ruler, he looked up.

"Here, have a seat," he said. "What do you think? Comfortable?"

It was.

Mohajir walked toward his office’s door and called for another university employee to test out the chair.

Through the first floor window, bulldozers and cranes were assembling the early outline of the on-campus hotel and restaurant, which broke ground earlier this May.

Looking further north, construction continued for ASU’s $29 million north end zone renovation at Centennial Bank Stadium. By the Red Wolves football team’s opening game against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 1, the north end zone will have water structures and terrace seating next to bars.

Those bars will need chairs.

Like this one.

Before Mohajir was hired as ASU’s athletic director on Sept. 19, 2012, the only bar with a view of a Red Wolves game was JTown’s Grill; but the $5 million pressbox construction in 2015 kind of blocked the glimpse of the south end zone scoreboard. Even that 1,600-square-foot LED screen was new — installed in 2014.

Those upgrades are part of the reason why Mohajir’s name appeared on candidate prediction lists, including the Kansas City Star’s, for the Jayhawks’ job, which opened up last Monday when Kansas fired Sheahon Zenger, its seven-year AD.

"A lot of names were mentioned," Mohajir said, taking a seat behind his office desk.

There had been: Former University of Arkansas, Fayetteville athletic director Jeff Long, Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork, Kansas’ deputy athletic director Sean Lester …

No official list had been released, but a Kansas search committee had been formed.

"I don’t comment on other schools’ searches," Mohajir said. "I don’t even comment on our own."

Mohajir had to hire replacements for former head football coaches Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bryan Harsin (Boise State), who returned where they previously coached as assistants.

Mohajir attended Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, Kan., and he was an assistant coach for the Jayhawks from 1993 to 1996. Then, starting in 2011, he was an associate athletic director in Lawrence, Kan., for 16 months until he moved to Jonesboro.

A seat behind the AD’s desk in Kansas would be a return home.

And it looks like it would be comfortable.

Doings at UAPB

A revival is rising in Pine Bluff.

Come Sept. 1, the Golden Lions football team will step out on a new artificial turf field and look up at a new digital scoreboard in its renamed football stadium, Simmons Bank Field.

The Pine Bluff-based bank announced its $2.5 million gift to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on Tuesday, which was the largest donation ever given to the university.

UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander said the funds will also renovate the Torii Hunter Baseball and Softball Complex, paired with donations made by Hunter, an alumnus and former five-time major league All-Star, and Bill Jones, CEO of Sissy’s Log Cabin.

By February, Alexander said, the baseball field will have a media building, locker rooms, a storage area, permanent restrooms and a concession stand.

UAPB athletics are now rising along with other members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, like Prairie View A&M, which opened its $60 million football stadium in 2016.

"This one act from Simmons is a generous act, and we’re grateful for it," Alexander said. "But we also recognize that our paths are very closely tied, that is, the university and the City of Pine Bluff. So anything the bank decides to do, certainly benefits our city, and we look forward to our part in the rebirth of Pine Bluff."

UALR’s dreams

Breathing into a cell phone in the humid Louisiana air, Chris Curry reflected how close his Trojans were to history.

Within 20 hours, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock baseball team lost in the Sun Belt Conference’s highest-scoring tournament game — a 19-16 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, which spanned two days thanks to a weather delay — and then were eliminated 6-3 by Texas State on Thursday at Russo Park in Lafayette, La.

UALR (28-28) hadn’t won a tournament game since winning the conference tournament title in 2011, and the Trojans won its play-in game 2-1 against Georgia State in Curry’s fourth season as head coach.

"The difference will be this team is coming back expecting to compete for a championship," Curry said Thursday. "That used to be something we kind of dreamed about, hoped about."

Back home in Little Rock, UALR Athletic Director Chasse Conque was presenting another dream for the Trojans baseball program to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.

On the third-to-last slide of his power point, a graphic design of a brand-new baseball field filled the screen.

UALR first announced in January 2016 that the Coleman family, former owners of Coleman Dairy, donated eight acres of land next to the University Village Apartments. UALR planned to build a new baseball field on the land that could host an NCAA Regional, but didn’t have a price or design in mind.

On Friday, Conque said the design, created by Little Rock-based Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, would cost $11 million to $13 million.

Funding, he said, would be sought through donations, joining the university’s ongoing capital campaign for facility expansions.

Conque updated the trustees on UALR’s football feasibility study, which he said would be completed by July 1.

"It’s all part of the bigger vision for the athletics department to compete at the Division I level," Conque said.

They dream big at UALR.

Those dreams will need investments.

UCA’s bad breaks

Think you had a bad week?

The University of Central Arkansas baseball team threw Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year Tyler Gray in its first-round game against Houston Baptist in the conference tournament Wednesday, only to get run-ruled 14-4 in seven innings.

Then, No. 8-seeded New Orleans upset No. 1 Sam Houston State in the first round, which forced the No. 5 Bears to face the top seed in an elimination game Thursday.

UCA trailed Sam Houston 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, put a runner on base, then a hard liner turned into an inning-ending double play.

Rain immediately poured down, delaying the game for 1 hour, 44 minutes.

When the game resumed, Bears batters went 0 for 6 to close the game.

"We just didn’t get any breaks," UCA Coach Allen Gum said.

Sports on 05/27/2018

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