Q&A with Interim AD Kupec: ‘The buck does stop here’

Matt+Kupec+writes+a+note+Sept.+27%2C+2021+at+Colyer+Hall+in+Carbondale%2C+Ill.+While+Im+here%2C+Im+going+to+give+it+everything+I+have.+We+owe+it+to+our+student+athletes%2C+and+to+everybody+at+the+university.+Kupec+said.

Chris Bishop | @quippedmediallc

Matt Kupec writes a note Sept. 27, 2021 at Colyer Hall in Carbondale, Ill. “While I’m here, I’m going to give it everything I have. We owe it to our student athletes, and to everybody at the university.” Kupec said.

Athletic Director Liz Jarnigan’s firing on the night of Sept. 9 looms large over the SIU athletic department. When Matt Kupec was contacted by Chancellor Austin Lane and offered the position of Interim AD, he said he understood the weight of the task he would be taking on.

“I’m really here to make sure everything’s stabilized,” Kupec said. “Creating a good support system for our coaches, for our student athletes. The buck does stop here. There is someone in the lead who works with the Chancellor very closely.”

A former quarterback for the University of North Carolina, Kupec has since built a career in higher education. In addition to being the Interim AD, Kupec also holds the position of CEO of the SIU Foundation.

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“I’ve got a lot of leadership experience,” Kupec said. “I enjoy people. I think that’s really important. I love being around people, I love working with people. I love working with the university folks, and the community.”

Kupec’s hiring comes off the heels of Jarnigan’s exit, shortly after which The Daily Egyptian reported abuse allegations involving the women’s swim and dive team. 

Due to the ongoing nature of the investigations into those allegations, Kupec did not share information beyond what the university has previously reported. However, he expressed optimism for the process.

“We’re not gonna rush it. We’re gonna do it the right way, and we’re looking forward to getting through it. […],” Kupec said. “I feel good about the way it’s being conducted, and when they’ve done their thorough look into it, they’ll come back to us with a report.”

With all eyes on the top of the athletic department, Kupec sought to turn the focus towards the athletes themselves. He highlighted the work Salukis do in the classroom and in the community.

“Athletics is a lot about story-telling,” Kupec said. “We have games and outcomes, but there’s so much good, […] even in a time of some turmoil and some news out there, there’s so many good things that go on.”

Kupec has an optimistic outlook on his new position. The former Gator Bowl and Liberty Bowl MVP said he truly appreciates  his new colleagues.

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“I have great respect for the people in this department. We’ve got great coaches, incredible student athletes, your colleagues that you probably see across campus, and we’ve got a great, really really wonderful program,” Kupec said.

That positivity extends to the players as well. Kupec, a former student athlete, said he knows what it means to play for his school, and his experiences around the Salukis point to signs of a bright future in Carbondale.

“I’ve been blown away, so impressed with the quality of our student athletes,” Kupec said. “It’s fun having conversations with them, how intelligent they are, how they present so well, how they represent our university.”

Despite being named Interim Athletic Director, Kupec did not express desire to keep the position permanently. Chancellor Lane previously announced a nationwide search for a new AD shortly after Jarnigan’s firing, and Kupec said he believes SIU will attract good candidates for the position.

“It’s one of the better jobs in Division I, in athletics, so we anticipate really good interest, a really good candidate pool.”

While the search remains ongoing, no updates could be provided. The university plans to hire an experienced search firm tasked with finding candidates from across the country. The search is set to conclude by January.

“We’re in the midst of putting together a search committee, and I think they’ll help with the selection of that search firm, so nothing’s been confirmed yet,” Kupec said.

Kupec, who will continue work at the SIU Foundation during his tenure, cited it as a great fundraiser for university activities, including athletics. As of Sept. 2021, the Forever SIU campaign has raised $135 million towards its goal of $200 million by June 2024.

“We’ve done really well these last couple of years, even in Covid, we’ve been record breaking years,” Kupec said. “And a big part of it is 19% of the goal is towards athletics.”

Ultimately, Kupec said he believes Saluki athletics is in a good place, thanks to the coaches, players, and staff that were in place before he came in and will continue to contribute long after a permanent replacement is found.

“We’re doing very well on the field and the courts and what have you, but it’s the championship kind of outcomes that we experience in the classroom and the community that go along with the playing field. And with that, I think there’s a very bright future for Saluki athletics.”

The Daily Egyptian reached out for comment regarding abuse allegations of former athletes to swim and dive team coach Geoff Hanson and Jarnigan and received no response. 

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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