USA TODAY US Edition
Departing AD alienated nearly everyone at Texas
Patterson’s belt-tightening, attitude wrecked morale at school
Anyone who has access to Google might have seen this day coming at the University of Texas. From the beginning, back in November 2013 when Steve Patterson was a surprise hire to replace retiring DeLoss Dodds as Texas’ athletics director, there were indications of what might lie ahead, that, despite being a school alumnus, he might be a spectacularly bad fit for Texas. Or maybe for anywhere. If you doubt it, look it up. Go back just a little further than his time at Arizona State, to Patterson’s tenure running the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. But 22 months after returning to Austin, Patterson is gone after alienating just about everyone associated with Texas, and the school hopes the damage can be fixed before it becomes devastation. As a Texas insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of matter, lamented to USA TODAY Sports about Patterson’s tenure:
“It takes years to build something like this and not very long to torch it all.”
There were many reasons for the abrupt departure. But only one example is necessary to explain the size of the problem.
Houston billionaire Joe Jamail declined this season to renew his luxury suite at Darrell K. RoyalTexas Memorial Stadium at Joe Jamail Field. You see a potential issue?
Last summer, when news broke that new Texas President Gregory L. Fenves had told Patterson to change his management style, it was an indication that simmering trouble had escalated to a boil.
By the end, along with big boosters and average fans, who were angered by his decisions to increase ticket prices for football and men’s basketball, Patterson had apparently lost the support of Texas’ coaches — including football coach Charlie Strong, whom he had hired.
Patterson’s reorganization and belt-tightening ruffled feathers and caused morale to plummet within the athletics department. To be fair, a change of direction — fat-cutting and even a housecleaning — would have happened on the watch of any new boss.
But Patterson’s style — arrogant, imperious, impersonal, fill in your preferred negative adjective — wasn’t conducive to maintaining morale within the department. Instead, it cratered.
Many of Patterson’s decisions and much of his strategy might have been necessary. But the internal cost-cutting came off too much, too often like pennypinching, or nickel-and-diming despite the huge budget. Likewise, he seemed unaware or uncaring about external perceptions of the department and his choices.
If college sports is big business, it can’t be run strictly that way, like a professional franchise. It has to have a friendly face. It needs to feel a little like a momand-pop operation, even as it swims in millions of dollars, even as hard decisions are made.
Today’s athletics directors are essentially corporate CEOs. They must know how to build and maintain revenue streams. But even at a place such as Texas, with a budget that annually ranks at or near the top of college ath- letics departments, the business model remains a hybrid.
Where does Texas go from here? The tendency would be to look for Patterson’s polar opposite, which might be a little much.
Mack Brown’s name immediately popped up after news broke of Patterson’s exit, and the former Longhorns football coach probably would quickly repair the damage, soothing the anger and unrest among the various stakeholders. There probably has never been a coach in the modern era who was better than Brown at making everyone from the average fan to well-heeled boosters to even the media feel appreciated.
But it might be uncomfortable to have Brown, who was dumped a couple of weeks after Patterson’s arrival, overseeing Strong ’s efforts to rebuild the football program. At least as important, Brown doesn’t bring the necessary business résumé; his hiring also might require the addition of a strong No. 2 to run the department.
There are plenty of successful college athletics officials who can do both.
The obvious choice is Oliver Luck, who was a finalist when Patterson was hired — reports had a last-minute switch to Patterson — but would he be interested this time? At the time, Luck was West Virginia’s AD. Now he’s an executive vice president with the NCAA.
There are many who fit the mold: business-savvy executives with engaging personality. To name a few: Arizona’s Greg Byrne, never mind that his father, Bill, was once the athletics director at rivals Nebraska and Texas A&M; TCU’s Chris Del Conte; Kansas State’s John Currie; Arkansas’ Jeff Long. Start there, but there are many more.
Right now, they all share one important characteristic that is very attractive. They’re not Patterson.