UAA's new athletic director ready for challenges

bbragg@adn.comSeptember 20, 2013 

Keith Hackett's resume covers 37 years at six universities and includes all sorts of jobs -- provost, coach, dean of students, dean of admissions, vice president of special projects, associate athletic director, executive vice president, associate professor.

He came to Anchorage for the job that has so far eluded him.

Hackett, 59, was introduced as UAA's new athletic director at a Friday afternoon press conference, saying the job of leading a college athletics department is one he has always craved.

"I've prepared my entire career for this opportunity," he said. "This was one of my most important professional goals -- I want to lead."

Hackett said the itch to be an athletic director took him to the University of Nevada in 2004, where he was the senior associate athletic director -- a job he said he took in order to prepare himself to someday lead an athletic department. Prior to that, Hackett spent 12 years as a college administrator, outside of athletics. And before his years on the academic side of things, he spent several years in athletics either as a football coach or associate athletic director.

At UAA, he takes over a program that has had significant recent success in nearly every sport but hockey. Between that and next fall's scheduled opening of the new Alaska Airlines Center, pursuing and taking the UAA job "was a no-brainer," he said.

Hackett's dream job comes with challenges. UAA's last athletic director, Steve Cobb, was fired last spring in the aftermath of hockey coach Dave Shyiak's firing and the subsequent controversial search for a new hockey coach. Critics charged that Cobb, whose 13 years is the longest anyone has spent in the job, was alienated from the hockey community.

Hackett said the turbulence didn't dissuade him from pursuing the position -- in fact, he called it an attraction.

"Leadership is a challenge," he said. "With every great opportunity there's gonna be barriers, things we have to take head-on. But that's part of the leadership challenge."

Hockey is one of 13 sports at UAA, and one of only two NCAA Division I teams in an otherwise Division II school. Though its popularity has declined drastically, it draws bigger crowds than UAA's other sports, and its boosters showed last spring that they have some clout.

Hackett said his first stop upon arriving in Anchorage on Tuesday night was Sullivan Arena, where he met with members of the Kendall Hockey Classic committee. On Friday morning, he had breakfast with three UAA hockey alumni.

Each sport, he said, will get his attention.

"I'll treat (hockey coach Matt Thomas) just like I treat (men's basketball coach Rusty Osborne)," he said. "Everybody has special needs. I'll make sure I'll do my best to meet all those needs."

Hackett outlined three priorities for his time at UAA:

• Continue the recent success UAA athletics has had in nearly every sport but hockey and strengthen the department's alignment with UAA's educational mission. "We're going to develop and continue this plan for excellence that we're on," Hackett said.

• Ensure the safety, health and welfare of UAA's athletes.

• Engage the community. "It's a critical role, because one of the things people tell me is we need to be more involved with the people in the community," he said. "... It's easy for me to go out and meet people."

Hackett, who doesn't officially begin the job until Oct. 1, said he plans to spend his first week making introductions.

"There's a lot of things I'm going to do," he said. "I'm a guy who comes in and makes people feel a little bit better about themselves."

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.


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