Since DeLoss Dodds retired in October of 2013 the Texas athletic department has been run by two entirely disparate personalities in the distant and prickish Steve Patterson and affable former letterman Mike Perrin.
Patterson took what few remaining BBs were left in the box and loaded them into buckshot for a weekend, non-hunting season dove hunt. Those little bastards had it coming.
During Patterson’s tenure we hated even trying to get ahold of donors because apathy, like ticket prices, was at an all time high. Patterson rubbed everyone the wrong way and the one thing his personality should have accomplished, cutting useless fat from a morbidly obese bureaucracy, didn’t happen.
Perrin’s job was to go around to all those hunting leases and gather those scattered BB’s. He largely accomplished this because everyone knew he had the school’s best interest at heart and unlike the last guy, he was incredibly accessible.
With Perrin being at the end of his strengths, University president Greg Fenves looked for a replacement capable of navigating the uncertain waters the next 5-7 years hold.
Being the president of a school the size of UT requires an incredibly diverse skill-set. You need to be a politician, an academic, and an executive, sometimes all at the same cocktail hour.
Think about the coalitions — many that are often at odds — Fenves must deal with. He’s dealing with players from all across the political spectrum and trying to build consensus that keeps the collective mostly happy.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Fenves, at least when it comes to his handling of school business, is his executive skill. This was something we all noticed with the Herman hire. For a man who apparently isn’t all that into sports, he certainly knows whose counsel to take and they in turn know how to prevent leaks.
Once he has his target in sight he’s able to close the deal quickly and quietly, with some help from members of the Board of Regents of course.
Beyond the Herman hiring he’s given us other examples of his efficient executive style. Patterson was replaced relatively quickly with Perrin. This move showed tremendous awareness on the President’s part. Fenves jumped on a Friday night flight along with Perrin and Charlie Strong to save the Sterlin Gilbert hire. Again, great awareness. He knew it would somehow look worse if he didn’t get involved. When has a school president taken these steps?
In the end, it’s those types of headaches that led to the hiring of Chris Del Conte. Fenves doesn’t want to have to keep a cursory eye over the ridiculousness that is sports and he certainly doesn’t want to have to deal with a men’s athletic director as well as women’s. He has important business to attend to.
One final thought: if Fenves is making hires like this for a field he knows little about, imagine how well the other hires throughout the school are going.
Thanks to a well placed source we’ve built a flattering profile of the new AD: he’s highly intelligent beyond the politics of sports, a great relationship builder with those who work for him and those he’s trying to work with, confident, comfortable in any setting, methodical, and highly motivated. These traits funnel towards being a master negotiator and fundraiser.
These sentiments aren’t just fluff as Del Conte’s accomplishments at TCU back them up. You saw success on the field across many sports, exceptional fundraising, plus new facilities and updates for old ones. Most importantly, with the help of Gary Patterson and football, he led TCU down from the Mountain West Conference and up to the Big 12.
His general talent and what he’s accomplished at previous stops prepares him perfectly for the challenges ahead, and they are numerous both in the short- and long-term.
Short-term: Don’t take this as making an excuse for Herman because it’s not, but he took on a lot of projects this off-season to get Texas competitive off the field. Now he has someone who can shoulder that load while also helping to generate the funds to accomplish some grand improvements to DKR and beyond. Herman’s off-season this year should look different than last with more time for him to focus on in-office aspects of the off-season and recruiting.
Del Conte will work with Herman to find ways to improve the program in every regard. The two had a very good relationship when both were at Rice. Things are on a much larger scale now with infinitely more pressure but the duo have the ability to be this generation’s Dodds and Brown.
On the bureaucratic side of the job, I’m not expecting any rash personnel moves. Many are currently wondering what that means for Chris Plonsky. Del Conte and Plonsky have a great relationship, as both were heavily mentored by IMG. She has already expressed support for Del Conte and can be an asset when it comes to marketing and branding.
As Del Conte settles into the job there will likely be some restructuring and perhaps cost cutting behind the scenes but clarity of the best course to plot will come over time.
Long-term: Those wondering what Del Conte wants for Texas when realignment and media negotiations arise again are failing to understand nobody knows what the best deal for Texas will be in five years. That’s the one Del Conte will want.
A very large percentage of current decision makers — the people who will get the realignment dominoes falling — won’t be in those positions in five years. There’s a lot of turnover in these professions. Also, who knows what the media landscape looks like when the Grant of Rights are up and how that will impact decision making? You could be watching games on your Ray Bans via Atari blue tooth for all we know. And you’d look ridiculous.
What I do know is Del Conte’s timing couldn’t be better. By the time heavy negotiations begin his saddle will be comfortably worn. He’ll have a very good understanding of UT’s needs and leverage points. He’ll have an even better understanding of state politics that might dictate who Texas has to take with them in the event a move is to be made. He’ll have some pre-made coalitions built. If football wins in the coming years, Texas will have even more negotiating might.
The term “We’re the Joneses” is UT’s version of “We Run This State.” It sounds arrogant in real time and utterly ridiculous when you’re losing. As far as being the goal the sentiment has value, though, and should be an internal statement and a reminder of why Del Conte is here.
Everybody should be dragging off what Texas is doing and it’s his job to ensure that happens. He certainly seems prepared but he has a lot of work to do that will require him to pull from all his experience and talents.