To use softball lingo, when it comes to his latest two hires, Chris Del Conte is 2 for 2.
He’s batting 1.000.
Of course, neither new softball coach Mike White from Oregon nor track and field coach Edrick Floréal from Kentucky has coached a single game or coached up a long jumper as Longhorns. But it’s hard to imagine the Texas athletic director producing better results than the two elite coaches he’s lured to Austin. Both bring much in common to their new posts.
Mostly, they’re “grinders,” and they know how to win. Texas, in some cases, has forgotten how to do both with no national crowns in any sport outside Eddie Reese’s perennial champion swimmers and divers since the 2012 titles in volleyball and men’s golf. But signs are that it is getting back on track. Look at baseball.
As White said Tuesday, “I’m a winner. I don’t come here just to compete. I’ve come here to win.”
Which is why my second question to him concerned the timetable for the 56-year-old Texas transplant to win a national championship here. (We like to ease him into the Austin pressure cooker.)
But even Del Conte joked, “It was my third question (to White).”
It’s on everyone’s mind. So when, then?
After all, White’s built Oregon from the ashes, taking the Ducks to five Women’s College World Series in his nine seasons and losing there this season to eventual champion Florida State. When can you light the Tower orange for the school’s first softball title?
“I don’t know. I have a lot of assessing to do,” White said of the 16-player roster. “My first step is to be competitive. We may not be the best team straight away, but I hope to see it in a five-year timeframe to put a number on it to see that happen.”
Can’t beat that for candor.
He admitted he came for financial security as well as the challenge because he said he thought the folks in Eugene figured he was bluffing.
“They didn’t understand the pull of Texas,” White told me. “They felt I was getting paid fairly, and there was no budging. You can’t bluff with two 7s, but you can with three aces in your hand. And Texas had three aces.”
Now the Longhorns have two aces in a pair of coaches who have taken their respective programs to No. 1 in the country, albeit without the ultimate title at seasons’ end.
Texas track hasn’t earned a national title since the women broke through in the 2006 indoors. The men never have. But all head coaches at these Forty Acres have been put on notice that they need to get their program in the Top 10 on a regular basis, just as former women’s AD Donna Lopiano once demanded several decades ago.
As Del Conte has reminded, all 20 of this year’s Longhorns sports programs reached the post-season. Ten climbed into the Top 10. “Can you imagine if we have 20 out of 20?” he asked.
Del Conte was willing to think out of the box when he chose White and Floréal.
Neither man is young. Both are in their 50s.
Neither is American-born; White grew up in New Zealand and Floréal in Haiti.
Neither is fluent in y’all.
Both are well-versed in international competition, White as a top-flight pitcher and Floréal as an Olympic triple jumper, and both as coaches.
The two were on opposite coasts, one in the Great Northwest and the other in the Great SEC.
Neither has any Texas roots although Floréal, a former Arkansas track star, said he promised his wife LaVonna that she could buy a house anywhere in the nation for accepting the move from Stanford to chillier Kentucky and “lo and behold,” she bought a four-bedroom spread in Leander, of all places, three years ago.
So maybe this was destined to happen.
But both started from scratch or in the neighborhood. Del Conte said Oregon’s program “was God-awful,” but said White constructed a sensational team in Eugene. Del Conte said he was in search of “grinders” and found White to be just the kind of coach he desired during their first interview at a DFW hotel just eight days ago.
“We build,” Floréal said when asked if there’s a common denominator between the two coaches.
Floréal saluted Del Conte’s creative thinking and suggested it mirrored the approach of Stanford grad school, which he says “very rarely” accepts Stanford undergrads because it wants to embrace unique thinking from the outside.
“You can get comfortable,” Floréal said. “This was about Chris having a vision outside the norm. It’s difficult to see out of the box. I don’t have a box. It’s about success at the highest level. It’s like the fans in left field at Disch-Falk. Chris sees the situation, and goes, why not. The fans go crazy, and team goes to Omaha.”
Where the Longhorns fell short. But at least they were in position. Baseball coach David Pierce said White’s record “speaks for itself, and I think he’ll do tremendous things here.”
Men’s tennis coach Michael Center sees the same and said, “You do feel the eyes of Texas upon you, and you want to win the national championship your first year. But it can make you get away from the person you are.”
So, coach Floréal, just when do you expect to produce a national title?
“A-S-A-P,” he said, walking out of the room.