Lonza Hardy Jr. couldn't turn down the challenge.
Hardy resigned as Hampton University's athletic director on Wednesday to take the same post at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a Southwestern Athletic Conference school he believes is close to achieving the same sustained level of success as the Pirate program.
"I've known about Arkansas-Pine Bluff since my Southwestern Athletic Conference days, and I always viewed it as being a program that had a lot of potential and possibilities," Hardy said. "It seems like a program that's primed to really take off and catapult. The challenge of taking over the program and seeing it take off the way I think it can - that's largely what attracted me."
Hardy visited the school last month and was introduced to administrators, faculty and staff at a June 28 reception. He wasn't formally offered the job, though, until this weekend, he said, and he spent the Fourth of July holiday talking with his family to be sure he was making the right choice.
"It's hard to come to the decision of deciding to leave a program like this," said Hardy, who will remain at HU until Sept. 6. "I don't think it was one factor. It's an overall feeling from my working in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. I knew some people at Arkansas Pine Bluff, and the chancellor's support (of athletics) mirrors (HU president) Dr. (William) Harvey's support."
Hardy became HU's athletic director in 2007 after six years as AD at Mississippi Valley State, also a SWAC school. He was also associate commissioner of the SWAC from 1989 to 2001 and served as sports information director at two conference schools, Southern and Alcorn State.
Hardy worked with current UAPB men's basketball coach George Ivory and women's soccer coach Robert Mazza during his time at Mississippi Valley State.
During Hardy's tenure at Hampton, the Pirates have won 11 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships, including tournament titles in men's and women's basketball this past season. In each of Hardy's years at HU, the athletics program won the Mary McLeod Bethune Trophy, given to the MEAC school with the best overall women's sports program.
In a release, Harvey called Hardy a "loyal and dedicated professional" who "has had a very positive effect on our athletics program."
"While we hate to see him leave, we are fully supportive of his decision and we anticipate letting our association with him continue into the future, both on a professional and personal level," Harvey said in the release.
UAPB joined the SWAC in 1997 and made its first league football championship game appearance in 2006. The women's basketball team earned its first SWAC title and accompanying NCAA tournament bid in 2009-10.
The Golden Lions' football team went 5-6 in 2010. The school's men's basketball team went 7-24 in 2010-11 and its women's basketball team went 1-28.
UAPB chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr. told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after Hardy's visit that hiring Hardy would be a coup for Davis' school.
"I think it would be very significant if (we) are able to recruit such a person," Davis said. " ... He's at Hampton. Hampton is a more headline university than we are, as far as some people are concerned. So you question: Do they really want to leave there to come to Pine Bluff? Pine Bluff is kind of struggling."
Hardy is convinced those struggles can be turned into success.
"It's something I know won't happen overnight," Hardy said. "The chancellor is not expecting it to happen overnight, and the staff is not expecting it to happen overnight , (but) if I didn't think it could be accomplished, I don't think you would see me heading out in that area."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun