Time is right for Vaught to come to GCU

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

Anyone who has ever been involved in the hiring process appreciates the importance of timing — and recognizing when the time is right to make a move. That certainly was the case when Mike Vaught told his wife, Karri, about an opportunity at Grand Canyon University.

“My first words were, ‘I feel like this is coming at the perfect time for us,’” Karri said Wednesday after the press conference to introduce her husband of 26 years as GCU’s new vice president of athletics. “Every time we’ve been to Phoenix, we’ve loved it. We’ve moved a lot, and lots of moves are scary. But this one doesn’t feel that way at all.”

GCU President/CEO Brian Mueller viewed the timing in much the same way when he studied Vaught’s resume, and that feeling was confirmed when they met for the interview. Mueller knew halfway through their session that Vaught — one of four “terrific” candidates, in Mueller’s view — was the right man for the job.

“His set of experiences, his life perspective, his Christian world view, his overcoming obstacles, his embracing challenges — those are things he has done his whole life,” Mueller said. “It’s a perfect match.”

Vaught had a similar reaction as he met the executive team.

“What sold me on this was when I met with President Mueller and saw the vision and passion of his team and where they want to take this,” Vaught said. “The athletic department is the front porch of the University. It’s the best way to get positive recognition. Some presidents don’t understand that. We are fortunate to have one who does.”

The resume of the Mena, Ark., native lists accomplishments in a number of different areas, and at every stop he faced challenges that some would find overwhelming.

His first big job was assistant football coach and recruiting coordinator for Missouri State University, which went from a 3-8 record to consecutive conference championships. But his biggest victory of all there: It’s where he met Karri.

When he became an assistant football coach for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1995, the Midshipmen had endured 12 straight losing seasons. A year later, they won a bowl game, and four years later, after he had been named offensive coordinator, they led the nation in rushing.

He went on to become high school athletics director, first at a Nashville, Tenn., academy and then in a San Antonio school district. Both won a state football championship while he was there.

Next up was Rice University, where as assistant athletics director he worked with football coach Todd Graham, now in the same role at Arizona State University, to raise $5 million in just 14 weeks and break the football program’s fundraising record in just six months. Later that year, Rice went to a bowl game for the first time in 45 years.

But Vaught saved his biggest accomplishments for Southern Methodist University, which had had just one winning football season (with a 6-5 record, at that) since being handed the NCAA’s “death penalty” in 1987. Before long, Vaught was setting more fundraising records, and under coach June Jones — one of the key hires Vaught helped orchestrate — the Mustangs went to four straight bowl games starting in 2009.

Vaught spent the past two years as director of corporate sponsorships for AdvoCare International, a health and wellness company in Plano, Texas, and worked at creating partnerships in both college and professional sports.

He plans to follow the same blueprint that has worked so well for him at all those previous stops. The first 30 to 60 days is all about building relationships, he said, and he will follow a simple mantra: “We will strive for perfection and accept excellence.”

“My dad taught me that if you master the basic fundamentals and have a tremendous work ethic, you can be successful in anything you do,” Vaught said. “What I’ll be doing here is what I’ve been doing all but two years of my career. I’m just dealing with a different group of people.”

Two members of the men’s basketball team, Jerome Garrison and Daniel Alexander, liked different aspects of what Vaught said in his speech. Garrison took note of Vaught’s goal of getting every GCU team into the top 25 in the nation, and Alexander liked the humility Vaught demonstrated when he said that this day wasn’t all about him — “even though we all know it is,” Alexander said.

“I like him,” Garrison said. “He’s a very driven man, he’s personable and he wants to know all about you.”

The Vaughts arrived in Phoenix late Tuesday afternoon and had dinner with Jerry Colangelo, a special consultant for Division I athletics at GCU in addition to his newly expanded involvement with the University’s Colangelo College of Business. Colangelo had talked with Vaught for an hour by phone a week and a half earlier and said the conversation could have gone even longer.

“He’s a quality guy — high character, very accomplished,” Colangelo said. “He brings a lot to the table.”

It had been a whirlwind 48 hours for Vaught as he stood in GCU Arena, surveying the scene. He was moved by the pomp and circumstance of his GCU welcome, complete with the Thundering Heard Pep Band, cheerleaders and dance team. “For a press conference, and I’ve done a lot of ’em, this one was off the charts,” he said.

Because of the time change and the anticipation, Vaught woke up at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, and by Friday he needs to close out his duties at AdvoCare. He’s putting his house on the market next week and hopes to be on campus by Oct. 27.

One thing’s for sure: Vaught knows how to dress for the occasion. He was nattily attired in a purple tie, shirt and pocket square, for which he gave full credit to Karri — and she gave him the credit right back … sort of.

“He does OK on his own,” she said, smiling. “Of course, I go along with him.”

She also plans to be at his side at GCU events. Karri, who was a product specialist for AdvoCare, says she will immerse herself in all things GCU in particular and Phoenix in general. She just opened a line of skin care products for AdvoCare in August and said it’s the perfect time for her to leave the company as well.

“Everything is falling into place for us,” she said.

For both the Vaughts and GCU, timing is everything.

Click here to read GCU's press release about Vaught's hiring.

Click here to read what people are saying about Vaught.

Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected].



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