OPINION | WALLY HALL: Cuervo to head a successful UALR program

After an apparent nationwide search for almost five months, Arkansas-Little Rock officially introduced on Wednesday its new athletic director, Frank Cuervo.

Cuervo brings with him a history as a successful fundraiser, which is basically what a college AD does.

In a room packed with athletes, coaches and administrators, George Lee applauded the announcement.

Lee has been the interim AD for 4 1/2 years, but late last September he announced he was ready to step back from what was supposed to be two-year gap filler.

A search committee was formed mostly of UALR administrators and as the months drug by with a few mild rumors, a booster stepped up and offered to pay for a head hunting firm -- OK, consultants.

Not sure exactly why DHR out of Colorado Springs was the choice, but it probably had something to do with Craig Thompson, who was the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference from 1991-1998. Thompson became the first commissioner of the Mountain West Conference in 1998 until he retired in December 2022.

He started his own consulting firm and later joined DHR.

Thompson had some experience and knowledge with UALR athletics.

Apparently DHR came up with a list of six or seven candidates, narrowed it down to four for on-campus visits and Cuervo was the clear choice.

A native of Florida and a graduate of UF, where he was a walk-on for the baseball team. He received his master's from Ohio State University, and he probably has been made aware that people in the South don't call the Buckeyes "The" anything.

In his 26 years in the business, he has worked at Alabama-Birmingham, Missouri State, Indiana, Missouri and was the deputy director of athletics/chief revenue officer at the University of Illinois-Chicago when he decided to take on the challenges of UALR.

While the Trojans are mostly underfunded in everything from academics to athletics, they are having success on the field and the men's basketball team won the Ohio Valley Conference. The men's track and field team won OVC Indoor championship and the women were second.

The wrestling team finished ninth at the NCAA Championships and Coach Neil Erisman is the hottest name in that sport after being named the National Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year.

The men's golf team will be favored to win the OVC and the baseball team is picked to win the league, too.

What too many locals don't seem to understand is UALR is important to the capitol city. Name a vibrant capitol that doesn't have a solid university.

So it was with new hope and expectations that UALR Chancellor Dr. Christina Drale introduced the Trojans' third AD in the past seven years.

It didn't have a sports feel to it. Most AD hirings are announced in the basketball arena, but this was in the Bailey Alumni & Friends Center.

Cuervo, who studied under legendary Florida AD Jeremy Foley, didn't make a long speech but he made an impactful one, talking about a combination of success on and off the field and about commitment to playing by the rules.

That last one should be easy since there are basically few rules left in college athletics.

A couple of members of the Board of Trustees -- Kelly Eichler just became the Chairperson -- and Kevin Crass were there as were most of the UALR Board of Visitors.

After a long search and apparently much vetting, UALR is ready to open a new door for its athletic leadership and if there was one thing that stood out during Cuervo's remarks, he's a devoted family man. His wife and son were there to see him officially accept the challenges of being the UALR athletic director.

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