Gragg Prepared for Homecoming

FAYETTEVILLE — Eastern Michigan athletic director Derrick Gragg is going to have a difficult time adjusting to his seat for Saturday's game at Arkansas.

It's understandable. Gragg has watched plenty of football games from Razorback Stadium. None have been from the visiting athletic director's box, though.

"I have to prepare myself for that," Gragg said Tuesday. "I've only gone in there to greet people in the past, so watching a game up there will be different."

It's homecoming for the Razorbacks, so it's only fitting Arkansas' athletic department will welcome back a familiar face. Gragg was part of Arkansas' athletic department from 2000-06, working as the senior associate athletic director under Frank Broyles. He earned his doctorate in higher education administration from Arkansas in 2004, too.

Gragg is now in his fourth year at Eastern Michigan, in charge of a program that has 21 sports, more than 550 athletes and an annual budget of roughly $17 million. It's his first stint as a program head after working in athletic departments at Arkansas, Michigan and Missouri.

"They always say the big chair is a lot different than the chair next to the big chair," Gragg said. "That's one of my things. When you're the key decision maker on a lot of these things, you have to be very meticulous."

Gragg's Eastern Michigan program has experienced success under his guidance, too. In 2006-07, his first year with Eastern Michigan, the athletic department piled up eight Mid-American Conference championships. The Eagles have 14 conference championships during his tenure.

He said his biggest challenge, though, is improving the school's revenue sports — football and basketball.

Gragg made one of his biggest decisions as an athletic director last season, firing football coach Jeff Genyk and hiring Ron English. The football program hasn't had a winning record since 1995 and is off to an 0-7 start, but English said Gragg understands the building process.

"He's awesome. He's a great AD," English said. "He's fully supportive of the program. He knows where it is and where we're trying to take it. He knows we have a plan to do that.

"He's very smart and he's very knowledgeable. He does things the right way and he has a lot of passion."

The 39-year-old Gragg said they are skills he acquired from the previous stops. He credited Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith for helping him along the way. Gragg said Broyles was a big influence in his six years at Arkansas, too.

"Arkansas is big-time college athletics," Gragg said. "The things I learned there, from Coach Broyles, watching him be a statesman, a fundraiser, learned how to hire coaches.

"All those types of things that go into running a program like this, I learned a great deal of those things from him."

That also includes Broyles' enthusiasm. Eastern Michigan faces an enormous task this weekend, but Gragg said the Eagles will make the most of the opportunity.

"Our kids, they're resilient. They relish these challenges and they want to prove they belong on the big stage, too," Gragg said. "It's a lot of fun to see it. I know we'll be prepared and the kids will go out there and do the best job that they can possibly do. So will the coaches."

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