Twenty-five years ago, Chris Pezman (B.S. ’92, M.H.M. ’95) sat at the administrative assistant’s desk in the outer office of former UH athletics director Bill Carr. He sat there because he was the student admin/intern then, never dreaming one day he would occupy the big office and sit in the big chair.
“I know ‘surreal’ feels overplayed, but it’s the only way I can phrase it,” said Pezman, the first Cougar alumnus to hold the title, and the 13th athletics director in school history. “I am just blown away by this opportunity.”
Being in that outer office set Pezman on a trajectory he would not have predicted. Not only did he learn about the business of athletics there, he met his wife there, too, when she worked for a catering company hired for the announcement of Clyde Drexler as head basketball coach. All in all, it’s been a pretty lucky office for Pezman, and he intends to extend the streak.
“I have to earn the right to be here, but this is my school, my alma mater. As an alumnus and former football letterman, if we don’t get it done on my watch, it’s on me,” said an emphatic Pezman. Modesty notwithstanding, Pezman got here on merit. In 2012 and 2013, he was assistant athletics director for football at UH and then an athletics and operating executive at the University of California, Berkeley, overseeing $1 billion in physical assets.
What he wants to get done, he said, is to have the UH sports program recognized nationally as ever-growing, training and educating not just great athletes, but great people.
When we talked to Pezman, it had been two days since the heartbreaking finish to the Cougar men’s basketball team’s postseason NCAA March Madness hopes when—at the final buzzer—the Michigan Wolverines sank a three-pointer to win the game.
“I can talk about it now. It was tough. A kid made a great play. We were 3.6 seconds away from the Sweet 16. What it emphasized for me is that there are moments that prove success is so tenuous. My job is to give our coaches and student athletes every opportunity to get to that moment and capitalize on it. It’s all the things that lead up to that moment we need to recognize and invest in.”
Decompressing from the High- Energy Job
“I don’t go full biker wild hog, but I do spend a couple hours every weekend on my Harley—it’s time when I can’t answer my phone; I just listen to music and get outside and go explore.
“I’m a former surfer, and last year I got up on the board a few times. I didn’t kill myself, so that’s a good sign!”
And Slightly Tamer
“I’m a big movie guy. I love to go to the movies and binge-watch Netflix. I’ve done ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Peaky Blinders.’ I love them; they’re all kind of dangerous and edgy. Also, I love to watch Frontline on PBS.”
A Final Thought on the Students
“Our athletic success is tied to our academic success; our academic stature is significant. The growth that UH has had, between the Carnegie Foundation’s Tier One status and launching Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society here, are huge advantages to us athletically. We have to help make a well-rounded person, academically, socially and athletically. They are spokes on the wheel all tied together, and if one fails, they all fail.”