University of Texas president Greg Fenves rarely talks athletics with the media. His position of athletics being the front porch of the university means that while it is outside of his expertise, he recognizes the extreme importance of Longhorn athletics to the school, fans and alumni. So when he speaks on the subject publicly, it’s with good reason.
One of the first times he spoke publicly on athletics was to introduce Tom Herman as head football coach. Another time occurred Monday, when Fenves introduced former TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte as vice president and director of athletics.
“Chris has the vision for how important athletics is for a great university, the importance of the student-athlete experience on the field or on the court, in the classroom,” Fenves said. “He is an AD for the coaches, recognizes the coaches are the key people that are motivating young men and women here at the University of Texas.”
Before Del Conte took the podium, Fenves made sure to address the fact that college athletics are very business-like, and that Del Conte will have to make sure that they remain “financially viable in a changing media environment.”
Fenves thanked previous athletic director Mike Perrin for his two years of work in stabilizing the athletic department after Steve Patterson’s disappointing tenure. He also thanked women’s athletic director Chris Plonksy for being a “tremendous partner” to the president’s office.
The president then introduced Del Conte, who almost immediately became emotional after his merry “Hi, everybody!” to start things off.
Del Conte became choked up when he began going through his list of people to thank. He teared up when mentioning former UNLV athletics director Jim Livengood, who Del Conte worked for at the University of Arizona. He thanked “Sallie Mae,” then the government entity partly responsible for student loans.
“Took me 18 years to pay her off,” Del Conte said about his $53,000 debt. “When I married my wife, she finally paid it off for me.”
He thanked Deloss Dodds, who he called an “amazing individual.”
But as he became more emotional and began to talk about his family, he paused for a second to provide a little levity, something that had been missing in the athletic department since Dodds retired.
“By the way, I’m an amazing crier,” Del Conte added with a chuckle. “I cry when we win, I cry when we lose. It’s okay to show emotion because it means you’re real. Means you’re real.”
He thanked his two daughters and his wife for supporting him, despite it resulting in them having to change high schools.
Del Conte relayed the story about how he promised he would wait until his kids graduated high school before changing jobs. When he asked his daughters for advice, he got something profound and something simple.
“Life is all about taking risks,” Del Conte said as he read a message from his daughter off his phone. “If you never take a risk, you’ll never achieve your dream.”
His other daughter simply told him to listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus, and said she was all in.
Del Conte leaves a strong legacy at Texas Christian University, his home for more than eight years. Not only did Del Conte build a strong relationship with coaches in place, including football’s Gary Patterson and baseball’s Jim Schlossnagle, but he also brought in a top basketball coach in TCU alum Jamie Dixon for the men’s basketball program.
In addition to good personnel decisions, Del Conte steered TCU into the Big 12, and helped fund new facilities that he would constantly boast were “debt free.”
“We’ve done some amazing things at Texas Christian University that I never thought possible,” Del Conte said. “We got in the Big 12 because one individual said TCU is worthy. That fateful night, my relationship was set with the University of Texas. That’s been the greatest thing that’s happened at TCU. Been the greatest thing at TCU, getting us into the Big 12.”
It wasn’t complete love from Fort Worth for Del Conte, as he shared a joke he received earlier in the day from TCU’s head football coach he worked so well with.
“Today I get a phone call from Gary Patterson,” Del Conte said. “’I love you, but I hate you today, my man.’ I said I love that. That’s what it’s all about.”
Several current Texas coaches were in attendance on Monday, including baseball’s Phil Haig, football’s Yancy McKnight and Michael Huff, and basketball’s Shaka Smart, who Del Conte made reference to several times in his speech. Various official Longhorn social media accounts also showed Del Conte meeting with coaches, including women’s basketball’s Karen Aston and volleyball’s Jerritt Elliott.
Many of the coaches he mentioned and met left good jobs to be coaches at the University of Texas, not too dissimilar from himself. He shared their reasoning.
“Because when you’re at the University of Texas, your opportunity to win a championship is no greater than here,” Del Conte said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Herman was not in attendance as he was out on the road recruiting for his upcoming signing class, which was also referenced by Del Conte. Herman did release a statement on Saturday thanking Perrin and looking forward to the future with Del Conte.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that Chris Del Conte will be leading our Athletics Department,” Herman said. “I’ve known him for several years, worked with him during my time at Rice and have continued to admire his work from afar for a long time. He’s a smart and creative leader who has a great passion for student-athletes and college sports. On top of that, he’s an engaging, energetic and fun person to be around and work with.”
Most of Del Conte’s first questions were relatively easy to handle, but he got one that anybody working in a high-profile position at the University of Texas gets; do you want to play the Aggies again?
Del Conte danced around the question, saying “I think we’ll look at that” and “I don’t have any comment on that today.” He did, however express the importance of traditional matchups.
“What is college athletics about?” Del Conte asked. “It’s about rivalries. Had that quote. Rivalries in college athletics are so important. The water cooler conversations on Mondays are awesome. I love the Red River shootout, all that goes on with that OU-Texas game. It is fantastic. Those things are what galvanize.”
Del Conte said he plans to meet with his entire staff and many student-athletes during the early part of his tenure here. He also said that he plans to do an “extensive deep dive” over the next two months analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the Texas athletic department.
“Who do you serve?” Del Conte asked. “You serve coaches and student-athletes, period. That should be the responsibility of all of us, right? That is taught by Deloss. There’s no one or the other, it’s the University of Texas first and foremost.”
For Del Conte, why Texas and why now?
“My philosophy is simple: my job is to support coaches and student-athletes in their endeavors to win championships, period,” Del Conte said. “That is it.”
“To Longhorn Nation, I can promise you, I will serve you to the best of my abilities. I will always be honest to you and answer any question you have, I will humbly serve you. I can’t thank you enough for giving me this opportunity.”