Anyone who has set foot in the Upper Iowa University Athletic Department over the past six months would be hard pressed to say Rick Hartzell has settled into his role as athletic director. The reason being, “settled” isn’t in Hartzell’s vocabulary; rather, he’s hit Fayette Campus in a full sprint.
Not only did he immediately seek out current coaches, staff and student-athletes, but he made it a priority to introduce himself and seek input from the entire University. Those who have met Hartzell quickly discover that his number one priority is family – both at home and in the Peacock community.
Rick and his wife, Jill, have been married for 13 years. The couple initially met while Rick was rehabbing a surgically repaired knee and she was ending a workout at UNI. They later officiated a few junior college and summer basketball league games together. Today, Jill is a chiropractor at Hartzell Family Chiropractic in Waterloo.
“Jill had a great chance to be a national-level referee but stopped due to her practice,” Rick said. “To tell you the truth, she is a lot more interesting than I am.”
He explained that his wife was an Iowa Golden Gloves boxing champ, an Iowa high school champion in the pentathlon and a UNI record holder in the hurdles. The Hartzells used to race late model race cars on dirt tracks across the country, where Jill once finished 10th in World of Outlaws Late Model points. Plus, she drove in the ARCA series on asphalt at Daytona and raced against Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and many other well-known NASCAR drivers.
Rick and Jill spend most of their free time attending activities with their sons, Jackson, 11, and Jace, 3.
The boys are active in baseball, swimming, basketball, piano lessons and various school activities. The family also enjoys biking, spending time together outdoors, attending Minnesota Twins baseball games, taking a trip to Mall of America, and visiting their grandparents and lake house by Grinnell, Iowa.
“Family is most important to us and they are our number one priority,” Rick said. “I have two older kids as well, and my sister and her family live in Garner, Iowa, so we spend some time with them. Jill’s parents are well and healthy so we see them often. That being said, Upper Iowa is also now part of our family. The
people here are awesome and everyone has welcomed us into the Peacock community. We are looking forward to attending the many UIU games and other events. Jace especially loves UIU basketball games and Jackson is a huge fan of (basketball player) Carson Parker.”
Assuming his athletic director duties in January 2018, Hartzell is certainly no stranger to northeast Iowa athletics. He served as the University of Northern Iowa director of athletics from 1999 – 2008. During his time with the Panthers, he oversaw 18 intercollegiate sports, 475 student-athletes, 65 coaches, 7 administrators and 22 support staff. Hartzell initiated the construction plans for the McLeod Center and worked hand-in-hand with the Northern Iowa Development Office to raise all of the required funds to build the facility.
Prior to his arrival at Northern Iowa, Hartzell was the director of athletics at both Bucknell University from 1988 -1999 and the University of Maryland – Baltimore County from 1985 – 1988. During his time in athletic administration, Hartzell developed championship-level athletic programs, found success in fundraising and hired highly successful head coaches and staff. In addition, Hartzell held administrative positions at Northwestern University and University of Iowa, and coaching positions at Iowa, Coe College and Northern Iowa.
In addition to current UIU basketball coach Brooks McKowen, his lengthy sport administrative career provided Hartzell the opportunity to meet several UIU alumni, including former UIU head baseball coach Rick Heller ’86, former UNI women’s basketball coach Tony DiCecco ’71 and UNI Director of Training Services Don Bishop ’92.
“Each of them always said how great a place UIU was and how wonderful the people are,” Hartzell said. “What has impressed me the most since coming to Upper Iowa, is just that. The people and students here are tremendous and they treated me so well. Everyone is enthusiastic about Upper Iowa. They love this place. It is hard to understand….this little place in rural Iowa. But Upper Iowa has great pride and it welcomes the role of the underdog. I love that attitude.”
Upon his official arrival on Campus, Hartzell’s immediate priorities were to raise expectations of Peacock athletics and outperform the resources to get the entire program to a higher level of success.
“I set out to listen to every staff member and learn our strengths and weaknesses,” Hartzell said. “I wanted to let these great people do their work, not get in their way, but also provide my support. I wanted to not only bring energy and optimism to the department, but to also emphasize that all of us need to hold ourselves accountable for what we do. Finally, I wanted to take my time in evaluating our needs and develop ways to make all of our programs better.”
Hartzell stressed the need for the Athletic Department to help the entire University by leading the way in recruiting more students and student-athletes. He strives to continue improving relationships with the entire Campus.
“Athletics needs to be respected for the academic performance of its student-athletes and being a great Campus partner,” Hartzell said. “We have tried our best to show everyone here that the entire Athletic Department cares about all students and its relationships with all the other University departments. We will continue moving full speed ahead with this belief as long as I am here.”
Hartzell’s short-term goals include heightened fundraising efforts, expanded student-athlete recruitment, scholarship budget enhancement, facility revitalization, coach/staff recruitment/retention, communication of great Peacock athletic stories, competition in the upper half of conference play in all sports, and providing UIU stakeholders with a continuing sense of Peacock Pride.
“The ultimate goal of the entire athletic department is to treat every single male and female student-athlete with the utmost respect, while teaching and mentoring them the life skills they need to properly represent UIU and succeed after graduation,” Hartzell said. “We also want to provide each student-athlete the opportunity to experience a championship season in their respective sport. To do this, we will need to revitalize the facilities with a wow factor that allows us to recruit the brightest and the best.”
While praising the recent opening of the Peacock Arts and Athletic Center, Hartzell said it is essential that facility upgrades continue in the future. A few needs that he noted could be monumental in recruiting student-athletes include the construction of an indoor and outdoor track, and an indoor tennis facility that could potentially contain space for the Peacock cheer and spirit teams.
Hartzell is extremely excited about the University’s new athletic programs in women’s lacrosse, esports and bowling. He reported lacrosse coach Erin Doherty is expected to field a 17-player roster during the Peacocks’ inaugural season in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in spring 2019. Newly hired men’s and women’s bowling coach Nichole DePaul Miller is also recruiting for the team’s first year of competition in 2019. Meanwhile, esports coach Jim Lowery and his roster of 6-8 players will compete as a varsity sport in 2018-2019.
While focused on improving UIU’s current programs and facilities, Hartzell acknowledged that discussions have begun to start a men’s cross country and track program. However, this would require facility upgrades, including renovations to the UIU Rec Center floors and indoor practice track. Conversations also continue about potentially adding women’s rugby, trapshooting, men’s tennis and women’s wrestling to UIU’s athletic programming.
“I want Upper Iowa Athletics to be a place that people from outside the University look at us and say, ‘what a positive and fun culture they have there,’” Hartzell said. “We want to be a program where people ask, ‘How do they maintain their tradition of success on and off the track, field and court?’ We already have great coaches and staff in place to do that and I want to help them continue making a difference in the lives of all students and the culture of UIU. That should be our legacy.”