Q&A with Armen Kirakossian
The former Arizona State assistant was named the new UCLA men's golf head coach on June 13th. Kirakossian helped lead the Sun Devils to four consecutive NCAA Championship appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2021-22 and a third-place showing in 2020-21.
HOW DID YOUR FIVE YEARS AT ARIZONA STATE COACHING ALONGSIDE MATT THURMOND PREPARE YOU FOR YOUR FIRST POWER FIVE HEAD COACHING POSITION?
I don't think there would have been a better situation that could have prepared me for this job here. Matt, alone, is a special person, coach and leader. He is always looking at the bigger picture and sees a golf coaching role as a CEO position in all facets from fundraising to donor and alumni relationships, recruiting, messaging, narrative, brand, communication and team culture. He's looking at all those elements all the time. Being around him for five years and seeing how he looks at the bigger picture and organization, it really feels like I was prepared for any job, but especially for a job as impressive as the UCLA job where you're in a big city and you've got golf courses that are very prestigious around you and you've got alumni that have had success at the highest level. To be able to see how (Thurmond) runs that at Arizona State and be a part of that was the ultimate preparation to replicate that at UCLA.
WHY DID TAKING THIS POSITION NOW MAKE THE MOST SENSE FOR YOU?
I was a head coach where I played at (University of Texas Pan American) for a year and then I got an opportunity to coach at Pepperdine for two years -- another L.A. school -- so I've seen L.A.'s scene. When I started at Pepperdine, it wasn't the national championship winning team that it was a year ago. It was 80th in the country and it needed a lot of help, rebuilding and energy. During my two years there, we did a lot of good things and we got Pepperdine back on the map. People were really interested in going there and we landed some massive recruits while I was there. That gave me the opportunity to go to ASU. Arizona State is one of those programs that has a history. That allowed me to see what the highest level of college golf looks like, but at the same time it wasn't in the same situation as it is now. We were barely making the NCAA Tournament and struggling to make the top 15. And by the time I left there, we were in the finals in match play. That was another rebuilding process. So, coming here at this time is just perfect. Last year, (UCLA) failed to make the Regional tournament. I think there's a lot here that's very similar to my starts at Pepperdine and Arizona State. I see a very clear path of where this program should be in the years to come. It felt like the perfect time and opportunity for me to take this next step. UCLA is obviously a very special place and has a deep history not only in golf, but all its sports. The stars lined up perfectly.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE FINISHING RUNNER-UP AT THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS LAST SEASON?
It was amazing. The prior year we finished in the match play semifinals and that was a really big step for Arizona State at the time. The team hadn't made match play since 2013, so making the match play was a big deal and then winning that first match was a big deal. Every step that was taken was huge and it was pretty emotional. This last year, we didn't have to talk about, 'Guys, we're going to try to win the national championship.' It was, 'No. We're getting to match play. We're getting to the national championship and we're going to take care of business.' That was the theme of the year: taking care of business. I would say all the way up until the final match, it felt that way. Then reality hit. We are one match away from a championship. I think that was pretty intense (and) emotional. When you finish in those moments, there is so much emotion because you're devastated you lost, but you are also, as a coach, instantly reflecting saying, 'Wow, that was amazing. We finished runner-up. We lost to one team in the end.' You don't want to forget that it was really an amazing season. That was unique. I didn't even know how to process that experience. It will go down as one of the great years in Sun Devil golf.
WAS COACHING ALWAYS THE GOAL FOR YOU AFTER COMPETING AT TEXAS PAN AMERICAN?
No. My senior year of college we had a new athletic director named Chris King. He brought me out to some fundraising events, and I remember at one of the events he said, 'I know you'll make a great head coach one day.' I looked at him and was like, 'Pshh. I'm going to be a professional golfer.' About four years after college, I was driving back from a tournament, and I was married at the time, and he called me like two weeks before school started and said, 'Hey, our golf coach just left. I want you to come be the coach.' I told him no and hung up the phone. My wife goes, 'You need to call him back and you need to take that job.' My original plan was I'd still play golf and coach for a bit and go back to playing. After six months (of coaching), I loved it. This is it. This is what I should be doing. I had a player end up winning the Western Athletic Conference as an individual and make it to Regionals. He was the first person to make Regionals since 1978. It got me on the radar and really got my juices flowing.
WHAT DID WINNING THE STRICKLAND AWARD IN 2019 MEAN FOR YOU AND YOUR COACHING CAREER?
I think it validated a lot for me. I didn't know it at the time, but I was putting in a lot of work, recruiting a lot. I made a name for myself and met a lot of people in a short amount of time, and I was working really hard. I think it also felt good because that award is voted on by people, so I think it's a relationship-based thing too a little bit. It meant that I was making a good impact on my peers and people that I worked with. It helped my career a lot too, allowing Arizona State to promote me to associate head coach and put me at a whole other level. I think it's a pretty important award for all assistant coaches. Generally, the guys who have won that award have success at getting jobs in the future.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COACHING STYLE?
I like to build an environment that's conducive to allowing guys reach their full potential. That means a little something different for everybody. To me, it's getting to know each guy and what they really want deep down. On the outside, everybody assumes they want to be the best player in the world, but that's not really the truth. So, figuring out exactly what they really want and helping them achieve their dreams is what I like to do. It's an individual approach, but ultimately, it's just creating that environment that allows the guys to rise to their maximum potential even more than they probably realized was capable of them. When you do that, it's hard to not have success.