Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Patterson wore out welcome

Posted September 15th, 2015

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Steve Patterson
Steve Patterson was fired (or resigned, as UT President Gregory L. Fenves characterized it) on Tuesday after only 22 months as Texas’ men’s athletic director.

The school known far and wide for its arrogance fired its athletic director for, well, being too arrogant.

That’s why in a nutshell Texas fired athletic director Steve Patterson.

Texas did what it had to do and should have done over the summer. It pulled the trigger on what became one of the most tumultuous, if short tenures in school history, when it let go the polarizing Patterson.

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Patterson lasted about 30 years less than predecessor DeLoss Dodds. So much for staying power. Patterson does have leaving power, however, as he stood to go away with about $5.6 million left on his guaranteed contract.

The beleaguered Patterson may have been the only person in Austin to be surprised that he got his walking papers less than two years on the job.

But UT President Gregory L. Fenves had had enough and heard enough complaints. So had the regents, who signed off on the move after a Monday conference call. So had the entire Longhorn Nation. As did alumni, faculty, lettermen, current coaches.

Did we leave anybody out?

Fenves did what his predecessor, Bill Powers, didn’t. He cut ties quickly with Patterson, who was never a good fit at Texas. Patterson was much more than the square peg in the round hole. He didn’t even acknowledge there was a hole. Or try to fit into it. But Powers wanted a bold rebel rather than a Dodds clone as he viewed Oliver Luck. But Powers is gone now.

In so many ways, Patterson was the John Mackovic of ADs: Sophisticated, erudite, smart, organized but arrogant, uncaring, humorless.

While Patterson should be applauded for hiring the first two African-American men’s coaches in school history in Charlie Strong and Shaka Smart — two solid and maybe even spectacular hires — he just went out of his way to alienate everyone he came into contact with. He ticked off everyone by raising ticket prices, disallowing the resale of unwanted tickets, pushing basketball and football games in China, Mexico City and perhaps Saudi Arabia, all but dissolving the sports information department and nickel-and-diming too many.

So if you’re counting, Dodds sat in the AD chair for 32 years, and Patterson kept it warm for all of 22 months. That’s a massive fail.

Patterson, 57, leaves with the biggest golden parachute available with a check approaching $6 million, depending on how negotiations with Fenves and Texas attorneys shakes out.

But Powers was the one who messed this up. Fenves has to fix it.

Powers endorsed Patterson, a smart but aloof, detached administrator with a pro background and an innovative businessman’s vision that sorely lacked any bedside manner. I’m not even sure he likes puppies. When Texas was poised to offer then-West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck the job in November 2013, Powers abruptly changed course.

Former West Virginia athletics director Oliver Luck was a finalist for the Texas job in 2013.
Former West Virginia athletics director Oliver Luck was a finalist for the Texas job in 2013.

Smitten by Patterson’s business acumen and willingness to take on conflict and make tough decisions when Dodds was coasting to the finish line, Powers pushed the selection committee toward the Arizona State AD after knowing him for less than 48 hours in the desert.

Luck, in turn, later left West Virginia for a faceless job with the NCAA. But he could be waiting in the wings. He didn’t return a text message Tuesday.

“Texas is mecca,” one Big 12 school official said. “It is a tremendous job, but it has about 600,000 living alumni and a whole host of politics that comes with it. Everybody has to be rowing the boat in the same direction, but they’re all going in circles right now. They need somebody to calm the waters. They have a huge, passionate fan base and need someone to hug ’em, love ’em and use a business model that makes sense.”

If Fenves was smart, he’d pick up the phone right now, call Luck and offer him the job, no questions asked. This hire is that crucial. Fenves shouldn’t let a national executive search firm muck it up.

Former football coach Mack Brown will have his supporters, but a top source told me that Brown would not be considered. We’ll see. Mack has in his back pocket the support of such Longhorns luminaries as Don Evans and Joe Jamail, both huge players, but I’m still not sure he’s ready to set down his coaching bucket yet. Mack could glad-hand and kiss babies with the best of them, but I don’t know if he wants to sit in on meetings about tickets and concession stands.

Fenves would be wise to also kick the tires on Oklahoma’s widely respected Joe Castiglione, an affable, competent AD with a wealth of knowledge and influence in the Big 12, and TCU’s outgoing, Type A personality Chris Del Conte, a rising star in his field who has helped lead the Frogs to the forefront of college athletics in football and baseball and directed big-time stadium innovations.

There are others just as qualified. Men like Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick, who knows what it’s like to lead a giant with monstrous factions and appetites, and Arizona’s Greg Byrne, although he might already be disqualified because of his family tree. Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby would be a great hire, but told us he is “not a candidate for the position.” Too bad for Texas. He’d be perfect.

“They could have somebody by January, no problem,” the Big 12 source said. “It’s an amazing job. Texas just has to get back to being Texas again.”

But don’t waste any time, Texas. Once the ink is dry on Patterson’s settlement, Fenves should relax for five minutes and grab a latte. Then he should start making calls. Or one call.

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