Craig Kurtz, proud East Central University alumnus and basketball player for legendary head coach Wayne Cobb, is the new chief executive officer of the ECU Foundation, Inc.
For Kurtz, the return to ECU is a chance at reconnect with friends and build relationships with valued alumni.
“It’s fun to have the opportunity to meet graduates. Not many people love the university more than I do,” Kurtz proclaimed.
Donors frequently specify an endowed scholarship, academic department fund, endowed chair/professorship/lectureship or a capital improvement project as the target of their benevolence. Since 1970, the ECU Foundation has assisted the university and students with a means of funding, along with making sure the desires of the donors are met.
Kurtz, who graduated from ECU with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1985, has been sales manager for SMG World/Tucson Convention Center in Tucson, Ariz., and served as a director of operations (2005-08) and owner/operator (2008-13) with Papa John’s Pizza in Tucson.
Prior to his work at Papa John’s, Kurtz was president and executive director of Arts Express in Tucson (2004-05); chief executive officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus, Inc. in Columbus Ohio and CEO for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oshkosh, Inc. in Oshkosh, Wisc.
“Craig is the consummate ECU Tiger. His love for the university is second to none,” said Jay Horne, chair of the ECU Foundation Board, Inc. Board of Trustees. “Coupled with the fact that Craig has been a successful businessman and has served in various leadership positions, makes him a perfect fit for the role of CEO. We’re excited to see how his ideas and leadership qualities can boost the fortunes of the foundation and in turn benefit students, faculty and the university as a whole.”
As a basketball player for the Tigers from 1983-85, Kurtz is still in the record books for single season assists at 156 (No. 1 on the ECU list), 88 career steals (10th on the ECU list) and career/assist turnover ratio at 1.67 (seventh on the ECU list). He averaged 10.5 points for ECU as a senior.
Kurtz, who played his first two years of college basketball at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., remembers how he got hooked up with ECU.
“Coach Cobb saw my (Arizona) state junior college all-star basketball game. He walked up to me and said, ‘hey, you really played well, you are the missing piece to my puzzle.”
Kurtz said the Tigers had four returning starters and Cobb wanted him to come visit campus and play a little (in a scrimmage situation).
“We were called East Central Oklahoma State University at the time and it didn’t sound to appealing to me, but when I got there I couldn’t believe how pretty the campus was and how friendly the people were,” Kurtz said. “From there, I was done (looking) and ready to come out to Ada. Coach Cobb took a chance on me and I was willing to take a chance on him.”
For Kurtz, he described ECU and Ada as a “little slice of heaven.”
“ECU helped mold me into what I am and to now be able to come back and promote these opportunities should be a wonderful job to do and I’m blessed to say that I can do it,” said Kurtz.
Playing for Cobb has its share of stories and Kurtz remembers one all too well.
The setting was 1985 in Tahlequah, during the NAIA District 9 Tournament in which the Tigers battled Northeastern State University, which brought an impressive 26-1 record into the game.
“We went into a four-corners offense to score, not to stall (pre-shot clock era). We jump on them early and went up by about 10 points,” Kurtz said. “It was midway through the second half and I take the ball up the floor and I see Des McCumbee all by himself. I pass the ball to him. He goes up for a dunk and misses. I see Coach Cobb yelling and going all-crazy.
“We walk over to the bench during a timeout and I’m thinking he’s really going to yell at Des. Coach Cobb then grabs me by the jersey and says, ‘has the sun fried your brain son?” (because Kurtz is from Arizona). He grabbed me by the jersey pulled me up to his face and got after me. I see Des laughing at me and he would later tease me that he got me into trouble.”
To this day, Kurtz and McCumbee are lifelong friends and talk to each other just about every day or every other day. Kurtz said they reminisced about that particular incident recently.
ECU went on to stun NSU and advance to face Southeastern Oklahoma State University, which was led by flamboyant and future NBA star Dennis Rodman.
“I hated losing to him (Rodman) in my last college game,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz jumped on board as CEO of the ECU Foundation on Monday, Oct. 3, and is ready to put together a strategic plan and get a committee together.
“We want to make the foundation donor friendly for all alumni and for those who maybe didn’t come to ECU, but sent their kids,” said Kurtz. “We want to reach out to everyone who has graduated or who has gone here.”
Kurtz’s wife is Noel, a University of Arizona graduate and star track athlete there, they have two daughters, Kennedy, who is 20, and Macy, 18. Kennedy attends and plays volleyball at Sacramento State University (Calif.) and Macy does the same at St. Francis University in Brooklyn, N.Y.