Embattled Texas AD sees future

Despite calls for his job, Steve Patterson seeks to help ‘create something special’

Posted July 19th, 2015

Story highlights
  • Patterson told to develop better relationships with key donors, fans.
  • 'Have I got as high an EQ as DeLoss? Probably not.'
  • Charlie Strong: 'My biggest concern right now is getting the program headed in the right direction.'

If Texas fans are truly angry at how Steve Patterson is running the athletic department, then it’s worth a call down to Houston.

“You’re asking me why Texas fans are upset?” said Joe Jamail, the 89-year-old legal legend who also is one of the biggest donors in school history.

“I represented Darrell Royal, and fans have been upset long before that,” Jamail said. “They’re born with the red ass.”

AUGUST 30, 2014 - Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson waits for the arrival of head coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorns for the team's stadium stampede pass fans to the team's locker room before playing North Texas at The University of Texas at Austin Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, August, 30, 2014. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas athletic director Steve Patterson replaced former AD DeLoss Dodds, who occupied the seat for 32 years.  (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Jamail said he doesn’t keep tabs on how Patterson is doing on a day-to-day basis. And he doesn’t bother “with all that Internet bullshit.”

But he’s heard rumblings that some fans are upset about a whole host of issues regarding Patterson. New UT President Gregory L. Fenves supposedly should make a change now instead of risking more damage.

The American-Statesman reported last Tuesday that Fenves and Patterson might not be on the same page and that the AD’s job status was in jeopardy. The two have met three times, most recently on Friday, to discuss various issues.

Patterson told reporters Friday afternoon,”I feel good about where we’re headed.”

Fenves, who became president on June 3, has admitted he doesn’t have a full, working knowledge of athletics. So he’s been quietly talking with “certain people he respects and looking to learn about athletics,” said UT spokesman Gary Susswein.

Multiple high-ranking university officials told the Statesman that Fenves doesn’t want to fire Patterson. He truly wants to work with the AD. “Greg really just wants his phone to stop ringing,” one source said.

For that to happen, Patterson has been told to develop better relationships with key donors and strive for better communication with the fans, sources said. The athletic department is conducting a national search for a chief communications officer.

Patterson admits he’s not as smooth as his predecessor, DeLoss Dodds, who sat in the chair for 32 years building Texas into the college athletics behemoth.

“Have I got as high an EQ as DeLoss? Probably not,” Patterson said. “But everybody brings their strengths and/or weaknesses to any position.”

People who donate to athletics also give to other areas of the university, school officials said. Athletics does not operate on an island. That’s why this is now on Fenves’ radar.

“The donors to athletics are also donors to the university in general,” said James Huffines, the Dallas businessman who was once the chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. “It’s essential that the donors and the alumni feel good about the entire university, not just one part of it.”

But this is Texas, a place where cooks have been crowding the kitchen and crowing about their culinary influence for decades.

According to the Longhorn Foundation’s new loyalty points rankings, donating $1 million won’t even get you into the top 25. You’d rank 28th on the list of official donors with 19,201 names as of Friday.

Donate a paltry $250,000, and you’d be back in the pack – a ho-hum 185th spot in line.

“Can any of them be athletic director, the ones that are complaining?” Jamail asked.

“Darrell Royal put it better than anybody. He was asked how many fans does the University of Texas have? He said, ‘We don’t have any. What we’ve got is about 400,000 people who went to the University of Texas who are now coaches at the University of Texas.'”

Jamail, who debunked a rumor that he’s giving up his suite for the 2015 season in protest, said he supports Patterson. He even represented Patterson during his days with the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

As for all the supposed anger among UT fans, Jamail said,”I don’t agree with it, but I’ve heard it. He was hired to do a job. The question is, is he doing it?”

Quietly building bridges 

Huffines, a UT regent from 2003 to 2010, said Patterson has made a lot of “very constructive changes.” His advice for the AD? Develop a strong bond with Fenves.

“It’s essential that any athletic director have a close working relationship with the president of that university, and certainly UT is no different,” Huffines said.

What’s remained a secret thus far is that Patterson has been trying to win over new donors for months. With the help of the Longhorn Foundation database, Patterson and school officials have been holding quiet events around the state and elsewhere.

Call them clandestine fundraising missions. The dates and locations are not publicly known, and invitations appear to be mostly by word of mouth.

Charles Tate, a UT alum who founded a private equity firm, hosted one of those events in Houston. Men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart made an appearance. Several former UT players, including Bryant Westbrook, Lyle Sendlein and Cory Redding, were on hand for an event in Phoenix.

A source familiar with the scheduling said one is being planned for Austin. The host, who wished to remain anonymous since the event hasn’t happened yet, has a public net worth of more than $1.5 billion, according to Forbes. Another event is being planned for Los Angeles.

What is Patterson pitching? In short, the future of Texas athletics.

“Talking about exactly that. Where do you want Texas to be?” Patterson told the Statesman.

The department, along with everyone else, is facing stiff increased costs as a result of NCAA legislative changes. A new tennis and basketball facility will be needed. Patterson wants to enclose the south end of Royal-Memorial Stadium and generate money to endow enough scholarships for all 20 varsity sports.

To do all that, like it or not, takes money. At the fundamental level, Patterson is essentially asking Longhorns fans a simple question: Do you still want Texas to remain Texas?

“What do you want this school to be?” he said. “You want us to be the best? You want us to provide the best? You want our kids to have the opportunity to have tremendous changes in their life story, which changes the world? Or not?

“If it’s not, OK, then it’s not. But I don’t think it’s not.”

Battling perception issues 

Athletic department officials believe part of Patterson’s perception problem stems from a June report by Horns Digest. The widely circulated story had a laundry list of allegations, which the Statesman found to have varying degrees of truth.

For example, the athletic department did charge an alumni group just to walk on the field at Royal-Memorial Stadium, as the article stated.

And money was pulled from the UT men’s golf recruiting budget to pay for a $5,000 magazine ad honoring Jordan Spieth’s Masters victory. But the money hadn’t been previously budgeted, and men’s golf coach John Fields figures it was recruiting.

Fields said he would gladly spend on another ad after Spieth won the U.S. Open. “It’s going to be bigger and better,” Fields said. “It’s going to fit somewhere in the budget. Why not place it where it really counts?”

The report indicated the athletic department misled the public, claiming that football season tickets went up more than 6 percent. The Statesman obtained a detailed spreadsheet showing the correct math – the overall increase was 5.8 percent when accounting for all 81,010 tickets available, and UT rounded up.

Two well-known donors, both of whom claim to be Dodds and former coach Mack Brown loyalists, declined to comment to the Statesman when asked their opinions about Patterson.

A third donor, probably not as well known, was rumored to have started taking up a collection specifically to buy out Patterson’s contract, which runs through August 2019. That person denied the rumor to the Statesman.

“Some of this stuff is just fiction,” said Dallas lawyer Steve Stodghill, who represents Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “There’s more truth in a Jurassic Park movie than in some of the stuff I read on the Internet about Steve Patterson.”

Stodghill owns a 12,000-square-foot house in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas that is, frankly, immaculate. Anne and Steve Stodghill’s home was recently profiled in D Magazine. Both have diplomas from UT. Steve’s mother and father graduated from UT, and so did his sister. “We’ve got some street cred with Texas folks,” Stodghill said.

Stodghill hosted one of the private UT events this spring, and Patterson and his wife, Yasmin, stayed four hours. He said about 100 guests were invited, including some in Stodghill’s personal circle of friends who were not affiliated with UT.

Red McCombs and Jamail aren’t going to live forever, try as they might. If Texas is looking for a wave of new super donors, the 54-year-old Stodghill might fit the bill. “If there’s one thing you’d want me to say? Oklahoma sucks. And the other thing is that Steve is a visionary,” Stodghill said.

With that out the way, Stodghill is convinced that UT churns out plenty of alumni who attain financial success and would be willing to give back. He serves on the advisory council for the College of Liberal Arts. Former UT President Bill Powers personally led a $3 billion capital campaign, so there’s money out there, Stodghill believes.

“We have a university of the first tier,” Stodghill said. “I think that all UT alumni and fans share the same interest and want an athletics program that matches a university of the first tier. Having a person like Steve Patterson’s skill set is a perfect match for what we need in 2015 and 2020 and going forward.”

Sam Soni grew up in Houston but now lives in Atlanta, the heart of SEC country.

As CEO of PrimeSport, a sports ticketing giant, Soni sees the importance of fan support on a daily basis. The 44-year-old Texas graduate has pledged a seven-figure donation and has the full expectation that Texas will field a championship-level program.

Soni said he’s excited to help Patterson, Chris Plonsky and the athletic team rebuild the department.

“We certainly could use more support from kind of the next generation,” Soni said. “It’s fun and rewarding in addition to help building something. That’s what we all strive for.”

Focus on facilities 

Long term, donors won’t give if they don’t believe in Patterson. He could ultimately prove his fundraising prowess with multiple upcoming facility projects.

A $17 million tennis center will be constructed just east of Interstate 35, although the money has not been raised for the project. Texas will need a new basketball arena, as the Erwin Center is being razed to make way for Dell Medical School expansion.

But what about the eagerly anticipated south end zone renovation of Royal-Memorial Stadium? Multiple university officials said that’s not expected to be on the agenda for the August meeting of the UT System Board of Regents.

“My biggest concern right now is getting the program headed in the right direction,” football coach Charlie Strong told the Statesman in June. “I know that everybody wants bigger and better, but when you think about it, you’re here to get an education;  you are here to compete for championships. You are here to grow as a person.

“I don’t know why I feel like I need all the other stuff for that to happen,” he added. “I want this team to understand that. As long as we don’t make a big deal about it, nothing is going to be said.”

The fact that there was little to no communication about the tennis project angered many who follow that sport.

“I don’t know how much he cared about tennis because it doesn’t make a profit,” said UT senior Lloyd Glasspool, who won the NCAA doubles title this spring with Soren Hess-Olesen. “That’s how it comes across anyway;  that’s how it feels. I feel some other schools try a bit harder with tennis.”

As it turned out, Patterson was not allowed to comment by Powers as the university endured some false starts and had to get East Austin residents to support the final project.

“The end result is an A-plus,” UT men’s tennis coach Michael Center said.

Winning cures everything

Patterson has been in the news far more than athletic directors should be. On Tuesday, the spotlight will shift back to Strong when Texas arrives at Big 12 media days.

Almost everyone interviewed by the Statesman believes that most of Patterson’s PR or image problems will evaporate with an eight-, nine- or 10-win season. Barring that, Smart can get things rolling in November with men’s basketball.

If fans are still griping about Patterson come bowl season, he could be in serious trouble, several sources said.

“I came back here for very emotional reasons,” said Patterson, who holds two degrees from UT and comes from a family of graduates.

“I think we have an opportunity to grow this department on the tremendous work that DeLoss, Chris and Butch (Worley) did the last 30-plus years. Let’s create something special. And if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have come here.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957.