Keith Hackett, who in nearly four years as UAA athletic director helped engineer Seawolves success in sports and academics, and continually navigated budget cuts, resigned Monday to accept a similar position closer to family.
Hackett, 63, will become athletic director at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. His last day at UAA is July 7 and his first day at his new gig is July 17.
Hackett said he and wife Pat, who he said is recovering well from recent heart surgery, want to be closer to family. One of the couple's two children, son Jay, and three of the couple's six grandsons, live in Lakeville, Minn., about a four-hour drive north from Mount Vernon. Hackett got to watch one of his grandsons play T-ball, and spend time with all three grandsons, while Pat was recovering from surgery in Minnesota.
"At this point, I just feel like the family aspect is so, so important to us,'' Keith Hackett said. "It is with a very, very heavy heart I make this choice.
"I get to stay involved in college athletics, and I hope I can make an impact at Cornell College like I hope I've made one at UAA. As much as we love Anchorage and Alaska, this is something we need to do. Family always comes first.''
UAA, which announced Hackett's resignation Monday morning, has not announced the process or timeline for hiring his replacement. The school is expected to do so soon, and also likely name an interim athletic director. Hackett's salary was $157,879, UAA said.
Overseeing 13 sports at UAA, the majority of which compete in NCAA Division II, Hackett upon his hiring in September 2013 furnished stability for a Seawolves athletic department in what UAA chancellor Tom Case on Monday called "turbulent and challenging times.''
Just months earlier, the school fired hockey coach Dave Shyiak and then athletic director Steve Cobb. A 49-page report issued after a university investigation said Cobb, who died in 2014, should have reported to campus police a 2011 incident in which Shyiak used his hockey stick to strike a UAA player in practice.
Also, the hockey community was angered the committee formed to find Shyiak's replacement did not include a member of the hockey community, and also unhappy that narrow criteria for a new coach inevitably reduced the field of prospects. UAA halted its search for a new coach, reconstituted the committee to include representatives from the hockey community, and eventually hired current coach Matt Thomas.
UAA also was only a year away from opening the $109 million Alaska Airlines Center on campus after the athletic department and its sports teams had spent decades cramped in the Wells Fargo Sports Center. Hackett proved an able "shepherd'' in that transition, said associate athletic director Michael Friess, the school's long-time cross country and track and field coach.
What became a series of budget cuts because of reduced state funding also loomed as Hackett came on board.
Still, Friess, who is UAA's longest-tenured coach after 27 seasons and has worked under five athletic directors, said Hackett furnished solutions and a calm hand in difficult circumstances.
"He was the right man for the job, at the right time,'' Friess said. "I believe that, because you couldn't have someone trying to bulldoze their way through. I think his level of maturity allowed him not to be rash in his decisions, and that was needed.
"I'm grateful because he allowed me to grow administratively, and to move forward.''
Under Hackett, Friess became an associate athletic director and in charge of the school's strength and conditioning programs.
Hackett, who arrived at UAA after nine years as senior associate athletic director at the University of Nevada, said people like Friess were like teammates.
"I think I was able to bring my experience and expertise, and get people to work together,'' Hackett said. "I think I've been able to capitalize on people's strengths and allowed them to grow.
"I'm a team-builder. But you know what? I had great people to work with.''
Hackett also guided UAA through extensive budget cuts and, in the last year, uncertainty prompted by the prospect several Seawolves teams would be eliminated. No teams have been cut.
"I think Keith has done an incredible job, especially inheriting a tough budget situation and keeping us ultra-competitive, while keeping the budget under control,'' said Nate Sagan, UAA's assistant athletic director for media relations.
In Hackett's tenure, Seawolves teams generated 21 Great Northwest Athletic Conference titles and top-three finishes nationally in women's basketball, volleyball and men's cross country. UAA athletes achieved combined grade-point averages of at least 3.15 during Hackett's tenure, including a 3.32 in the most recent semester.
Hackett said he's most proud of athletes' academic excellence. He said he tells every prospective athlete that his first expectation of them is that they graduate and that they can count on the athletic department to support that goal. His best day on the job, he said, is graduation day.
"Then I know I have done my job and kept my promise,'' Hackett said.
Chancellor Case praised Hackett in a news release.
"Keith Hackett has been a positive, transformative leader at UAA,'' Case said.
Hackett's departure comes in a time of flux at UAA, where a number of people who have a hand in athletics have either left the school or will do so soon.
Bill Spindle, who as longtime vice president for administrative services oversaw the athletic department, resigned last fall to take a job at Texas A&M. Case in April announced his retirement, effective June 30. Paul Stoklos, UAA's first and only gymnastics coach, who served 33 years in his post, recently announced his retirement. Sagan has resigned, effective Sept. 1, and associate media relations director Dallas Baldwin recently resigned with the intention of starting her own business in her hometown of Kenai.