In the six months Lonza Hardy Jr. has been athletic director at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the school has won one team and four individual championships, the football team posted its best record in five seasons, and the men's basketball team — which improved its win count from last season by four games — defeated an NCAA tournament qualifier.
In the six months Lonza Hardy Jr. has been athletic director at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the school has won one team and four individual championships, the football team posted its best record in five seasons, and the men’s basketball team — which improved its win count from last season by four games — defeated an NCAA tournament qualifier.
For someone who oversaw 11 MEAC team titles at Hampton and five SWAC team crowns at Mississippi Valley State, he’s off to quite the start.
“I think things have gone relatively well, as well as you can expect in a short amount of time,” Hardy said. “I like the direction our program is going, the commitment of our student-athletes, commitment of our staff, the support we’re getting from people on campus and off campus. Overall, I can say my first six months have been enjoyable.”
Asked what gives him the idea he will have more success at UAPB, Hardy said: “The student-athletes we have in the program and the staff you surround yourself with.”
Most of the athletic staff was in place when Hardy took over during the second week of the football season in September. At the time, the women’s soccer team was just getting its second SWAC championship season under way, and Nyeshia Aldridge and Christopher McCoy were getting their feet wet as UAPB head coaches in volleyball and cross country, respectively. (McCoy also is the track and field coach.)
Roberto Mazza’s success leading the women’s soccer team helped him earn the same position at Louisiana-Monroe, and Hardy found his replacement in Rohan Naraine. But the changes for Hardy don’t stop there.
He now has to find a head women’s basketball coach. Surely he’s eyeing someone who can produce more wins in a season than in the past three combined (10) for the Lady Lions. And then some.
“Not just in a women’s basketball coach but any coach we hire, someone who can understand the mid-major approach to being successful in the NCAA — No. 1, having a die-hard approach to academics, which has already been the case at the university, and someone who can recruit the type of student-athletes we need to help us get to the next level, someone who’s willing to go out into the local community, meeting with the powers that be in the community to make sure we get the support not only of the campus community in all of our sports, but also the support in the local community including the business community, and making sure that when we have home athletic events, as much as possible the fans are filled with people who can come out and support our student-athletes,” Hardy said.
“I envision that within the next few weeks, I will be in a position to get a new coach in.”
Hardy doesn’t intend to rush the hiring process, but just so he knows, the late signing period for basketball is April 11-May 16.
Staying with the hardwood, the AD is looking into more nonconference home games for the Golden Lions and Lady Lions, one or two before January, Hardy said. UAPB ranked second in among SWAC men’s teams in home attendance with 2,816 fans per game — but a distant 1,124 behind Valley. The UAPB women ranked third with 1,497, almost the same margin behind first-place Valley and only 19 behind Prairie View A&M.
“We’re looking at getting one or two home games in November or December, but realizing at the same time we do reap those benefits for playing those nonconference games on the road,” Hardy said. “They do bring in revenue we need for our program, but at the same time, we are looking at having a couple of home games during the pre-conference period.”
UAPB has had only one home nonconference women’s game at least each of the past two seasons, bringing in as many as 581 people. That was against Arizona this past Dec. 18, a 67-37 loss for a Sunday matinee.
UAPB generally makes $80,000-$90,000 from a nonconference road game such as those at Michigan and Cincinnati, Hardy said. He added a home game won’t produce that much revenue.
“The amount of monies we generate from guarantees from playing the teams that we play, we would have to have a lot of home games in order to make up for those guarantees,” Hardy said.
The UAPB men’s and women’s teams generated a combined $1,008,873 in revenue during the 2010-11 season, according to an Equity in Athletics Data Analysis report. (Data for this season isn’t yet available.) Each SWAC school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams share nine home dates per season.
UAPB’s average home revenue for that season — counting the nine conference dates and the women’s nonconference game — comes out $100,887.30.
When it comes to facility upgrades, Hardy also identified putting permanent seating in place at the year-old Torii Hunter Baseball Complex as an immediate need, with the lights to follow. UAPB tied South Dakota State in a game due to darkness earlier this season.
As far as securing an on-campus track, that’s a longer-range project that Hardy doesn’t expect to be completed within the next two years. “It is something that has been in the discussion stage,” Hardy said.
One thing that’s ready to take off at UAPB is a new athletic honor society called Chi Alpha Sigma. The school’s first class members, all of whom have attained grade-point averages of 3.4 or higher, will be inducted next week, Hardy said.
UAPB has earned championships before Hardy’s tenure and seeks to add to it. For the teams’ success and his drive for more, Hardy gets a passing review.
“Those teams that have banners hanging in the rafters, that’s in the past,” Hardy said. “We have to look at where we are and where we want to go to make sure we continue adding to it.”
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. He can be reached at email@example.com.