Will the next Cat Osterman please stand up?
How about the next Vince Young?
Surely there’s another Jamie Carey or Kevin Durant out there.
Texas athletics is still the money-printing machine it’s been for the past three decades, but its national allure isn’t close to where it was in the early 2000s. The old guard is gone. Will it ever come back?
We received a gentle reminder of the glory days of Longhorn athletics last week when the university announced that Osterman — not just the greatest softball player ever to come out of Texas, but also the greatest female ever to play a team sport at the Forty Acres — will have her old No. 8 jersey retired in March.
Cat was box office. The first college pitcher to register more than 2,000 career strikeouts was part of a golden era when Texas teams in the major sports were making all kinds of noise on a national level.
This current era serves as a stark reminder of how things were. And how things are.
While her old UT classmates Young and Colt McCoy have their jerseys prominently displayed at Royal-Memorial Stadium — Huston Street’s No. 25 will be retired at UFCU Disch-Falk Field this spring — Osterman has played the waiting game for years. Three College World Series appearances, three national player of the year awards and an Olympic gold medal are just some of the accomplishments that her dot her résumé. Texas will retire her jersey March 25 during a game against UT-Arlington.
“I don’t know if I can say that it trumps the gold medal, but it’s right up there,” Osterman said on this week’s “On Second Thought” podcast. “I told my husband, ‘This is really freaking cool. Earl Campbell’s number is retired up there. Ricky Williams’ number is retired there.’”
This is the part where I give you permission to get nostalgic and remember how great it was to be a Longhorns sports fan back in the early 2000s. It was some spectacle. Twenty years later, Texas teams are still competitive by and large, but of the major team sports — football, baseball and basketball — Texas isn’t mentioned as a serious national title contender.
Things were better back in the day. In October 2002, a Sports Illustrated report ranking the country’s 324 college athletic programs had Texas and Stanford on top. Osterman appeared on that week’s cover along with fellow Longhorns standouts such as basketball’s T.J. Ford, football’s Chris Simms, and track and field’s Moushaumi Robinson.
“Choosing between them is almost as hard as getting the Cardinal’s wacky band to march in formation or walking across the Texas campus without being Hook ’em Horned,” the article said. “The overriding personalities of their programs may be different — Texas is earnest and passionate, Stanford more casual and irreverent — but their success is strikingly similar.”
It’s been a bit quiet here of late. Not too long ago, you had Osterman, Street and Young on campus at the same time. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of something special, there’s a tendency to take that time for granted.
The Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup, which ranks college athletic programs every year based on all their sports’ results, ranked Stanford first and Texas 17th in its 2019 fall standings. A No. 17 ranking is solid, but not top-10 solid, which UT athletic director Chris Del Conte has openly vowed to bring to all sports on campus.
Nearly 20 years later, the legends who helped make Texas a national powerhouse are no longer part of the mix. Longtime athletic director DeLoss Dodds retired in 2013. His replacement, Steve Patterson, didn’t last two years. Mack Brown won a national championship with Young leading the way in 2005 and then coached in another title game four seasons later with McCoy before getting the gate after 16 seasons. His replacement, Charlie Strong, won only 16 games in three years.
Strong’s successor Tom Herman has put up three straight winning seasons and a 3-0 record in bowl games but 2019’s 8-5 record and No. 25 final ranking didn’t live up to the preseason No. 10 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Basketball coaches Rick Barnes and Jody Conradt, who both led their teams to the Final Four in 2003 — were replaced by Shaka Smart and Gail Goestenkors, then later Karen Aston. Smart has yet to win an NCAA tourney game in four seasons. Goestenkors won one in her first season, then suffered first-round losses the next four years before getting canned in 2012.
The late Augie Garrido won a pair of College World Series titles over a four-year period before the program started to slide a decade later, leading to his ouster in 2016. David Pierce came in and led Texas to a College World Series appearance in his second year, then went 27-27 in a disastrous 2019.
So things are not where they should be.
If anything, Del Conte’s arrival has provided a bit of hope. But he will be faced with a tough decision if Smart continues to flounder.
Sure, we’ve witnessed UT championships in volleyball, swimming, golf and tennis, but Texas athletics was making more noise back in the 2000s when the major team sports were national contenders. The fans continue to hang on to that undying hope that another golden era is around the corner. After all, these things tend to be cyclical.
Who knows? The next Cat could be out there working on her rise ball as we speak.