A.D. change tops biggest Texas stories of 2015

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Story highlights
  • Patterson upset many key people in his 22 months on the job.
  • Spieth won the first two majors and was in the top five in the final two.
  • Red River redemption was the high point of football season.

Posted December 25th, 2015

As it turned out, 2015 wasn’t the greatest of years for Texas athletics.

In March, athletic director Steve Patterson fired basketball coach Rick Barnes, who a year earlier was inducted into Texas’ Hall of Honor. Six months later, Patterson was then fired, though some may argue his dismissal was the best thing to happen to Texas in the past 12 months.

Bevo died. So did Joe. The football team lost seven games, but at least their fans could numb the pain by drinking alcohol at games. An investigation was launched into academic misconduct. It’ll wrap up in 2016.

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The year had bright spots. Many of them. It gave us Jordan’s green jacket, Jevan’s buzzer-beater, and Jerritt’s annual Final Four appearance. Not to mention, some Red River Redemption that was as sweet as it was shocking.

Here are the American-Statesman’s top 10 Longhorn stories, both good and bad, from 2015:

The University of Texas Systems board of regents is expected to approve a settlement with ousted athletics director Steve Patterson Thursday. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The University of Texas Systems board of regents approved a $3 million settlement with ousted athletics director Steve Patterson. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

1. Patterson out, Perrin in; Sept. 5

He can’t claim he was blindsided. For months, speculation swirled about Patterson’s status as athletic director and then, on a Tuesday morning, he was summoned to president Gregory L. Fenves’ office in the Tower and was fired. Technically, Patterson resigned and received a $3 million settlement to go away. Frankly, it’s rather impressive how many key people Patterson managed to upset in just 22 months on the job, whether it was deep-pocketed donors put off by his abrasive style or football coach Charlie Strong with whom Patterson had minimal communication. Prior to making the move, Fenves had been working behind the scenes to identify Patterson’s replacement, and on Labor Day, he offered the job to former Longhorns linebacker Mike Perrin, a Houston attorney who had no previous experience in athletic administration. Perrin, who is friends with some of the most influential people in Texas athletics, took over on an interim basis before being appointed the permanent athletic director on Dec. 2.

Current Masters champion Jordan Spieth, is
Current Masters champion Jordan Spieth, is “leaning towards” serving Texas barbecue at the traditional masters winner’s dinner in 2016 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

2. Spieth Slam; April 12 (Masters) and June 21 (U.S. Open)

As his old team sought a national title, former Longhorn Jordan Spieth went wire-to-wire to take home the Masters championship. At 18-under par, Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ Masters scoring record and also set the 36-hole and 54-hole scoring records. Spieth, who was 21 at the time of his win, would have been a senior on the Longhorns golf team had he not turned pro after one full season at Texas.

In June, Spieth secured the first half of the grand slam with a win at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. His bid ended there, but Spieth managed top five finishes at the British Open (tied for fourth) and the PGA Championship (second).

Meanwhile at Texas, the Longhorns’ golf team took out an advertisement in Golf World to congratulate their champion.

Trying to cap their season with a NCAA title, the second-ranked Longhorns, who won seven tournaments including their third straight Big 12 title, were upset by USC in the quarterfinal of NCAA match play. Sophomore Beau Hossler was named first-team All-America.

SEPTEMBER 5, 2015 - Texas head coach, Charlie Strong, center, walks down the tunnel towards the locker room after Notre Dame defeated the Longhorns 38-3 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, September 5, 2015. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
SEPTEMBER 5, 2015 – Texas head coach, Charlie Strong, center, walks down the tunnel towards the locker room after Notre Dame defeated the Longhorns 38-3 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, September 5, 2015. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

3. Smoked in South Bend; Sept. 5 

A heavy dose of preseason propaganda had some believing Texas, breaking in several true freshmen, could knock off Notre Dame, rife with veterans. Balloon meet needle. The narrative of the season changed after the 38-3 drubbing, and other things changed as well. Three days later, play-caller Shawn Watson, who supposedly spent all offseason installing a spread system, was demoted. The turnover didn’t stop there, as quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, a 12-game starter in 2014, was benched for redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard the following week against Rice. Whatever progress Texas made on offense during the offseason crumbled before Touchdown Jesus.

Texas head coach Charlie Strong is lifted by his players after their 24-17 win over Oklahoma in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Dallas. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
Texas head coach Charlie Strong is lifted by his players after their 24-17 win over Oklahoma in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Dallas. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

4. Red River … Really?!; Oct. 10

By far, this was the most unexplainable day of 2015. A social media spat between freshmen and upperclassmen broke out in the days after a 50-7 loss at TCU, threatening to divide the locker room during Oklahoma week. Rather than splinter, the Horns put together their finest hour and won, 24-17. Coach Charlie Strong entered the postgame press conference and approached reporters, smacking hands with them and poking fun at their lack of belief. Strong said he hardly slept the night before, an exhausted and starved mess after a week that was both his worst and his best as Texas’ coach. Strong, who got roasted by national media after the TCU loss, was decidedly off of the hot seat.

That marked the season’s high-point for Texas, which finished 5-7 and without a bowl game, and the low-point for Oklahoma, which won the Big 12 and will play top-ranked Clemson in a playoff semifinal.

Rick Barnes speaks at his final press conference at UT on Sunday, March 29, 2015.
Rick Barnes speaks at his final press conference at UT on Sunday, March 29, 2015.

5. Rick Barnes dismissed; March 29 

Several days passed after Texas’ season-ending loss to Butler in the NCAA tournament without definitive word on Barnes’ future as coach. Some speculated he could save himself by changing his assistants, but apparently it never came to that and Patterson dismissed Barnes, the program’s winningest coach, after 17 seasons. Barnes, who was 402-180 at Texas with 16 NCAA tournament appearances, wasn’t out of work long and landed at Tennessee just two days later. Meanwhile, Patterson managed to succeed where many other ADs had come up short and coaxed Shaka Smart to Austin from Virginia Commonwealth. Smart, who was hired on April 2, is off to 8-3 start with a win over then third-ranked North Carolina on Dec. 12. Barnes is having a rough start at Tennessee. His Volunteers are 6-5, but have yet to win away from Knoxville.

Matt Mattox, Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert pose for a picture during a press conference Dec. 14, 2015. Photo by Jay Janner
Matt Mattox, Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert pose for a picture during a press conference Dec. 14, 2015. Photo by Jay Janner

6. Got Gilbert?; Dec. 12

Texas did finally gets its offensive coordinator, but not after an amusing whiff that resulted in university president Gregory L. Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin flying to Tulsa to ask Sterlin Gilbert to reconsider. Gilbert, the No. 2 choice after TCU’s Sonny Cumbie, had turned down Texas’ offer earlier in the day over compensation, leaving Strong and the new regime of Perrin and Fenves looking overmatched in a search that had become public. Gilbert, a 37-year-old assistant with no previous major coordinator experience, seized all of the leverage and agreed to a three-year, $850,000 deal. Among Gilbert’s stipulations for the job was hiring Tulsa line coach Matt Mattox, with whom Gilbert coached with at three previous stops in the past three years.

As embarrassing as it may have looked, no one will care about the pains it took to land Gilbert if he can be a quarterback whisperer for Jerrod Heard.

UT linebacker Malik Jefferson picks up a Rice fumble and runs it back for a touchdown in the third quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 12, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT linebacker Malik Jefferson picks up a Rice fumble and runs it back for a touchdown in the third quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 12, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

7. Flurry to Signing Day; Feb. 4

Malik Jefferson’s commitment occurred 13 days before 2015, but his presence in the recruiting class lingered into the new year and is credited for Texas rebounding from a shaky start to sign the nation’s No. 9 class. Including the dual commitments of Jefferson, the state’s top player, and his high school teammate, DeAndre McNeal, Texas picked up 11 four or five-star commitments after the regular season ended — including Chris Warren, Holton Hill and Davante Davis — and also opened doors to several of the state’s top recruits, including five-star quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen High.

Murray sent social media into a frenzy with his unannounced visit to Texas on Jan. 21, but it was all just a tease and he later re-affirmed his pledge to A&M. Murray’s leaving College Station after one year and has been granted a release from his scholarship.

Texas players, including Chiaka Ogbogu (11), celebrate a point against Minnesota during an NCAA women's volleyball tournament semifinal in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Texas players, including Chiaka Ogbogu (11), celebrate a point against Minnesota during an NCAA women’s volleyball tournament semifinal in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

8. Another Final Four; Dec. 13

For the Texas volleyball team, 2015 resembled 2014. And 2013. And 2012. Fueled by three seniors that made up the winningest class in program history, Texas captured a five-set thriller over Florida and advanced to the NCAA Final Four for the fourth year in a row and the seventh time in the past eight seasons. There, they topped Minnesota in four sets to advance to the final. Visions of a national title were shattered by Nebraska, which swept Texas at CenturyLink Center in Omaha in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a NCAA volleyball match.

There’s reason to believe Texas’ streak of Final Fours will continue in 2016, as Jerritt Elliott’s program returns three All-Americans.

Texas guard Javan Felix celebrates a win over the No. 3 North Carolina 84-82 during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas guard Javan Felix celebrates a win over the No. 3 North Carolina 84-82 during the second half of an NCAA men’s college basketball game at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

9. Felix beats the buzzer; Dec. 12

Shaka Smart didn’t have to wait long for a signature win at Texas. In his ninth game, Javan Felix corralled an offensive rebound and swished an 18-footer as time expired to beat No. 3 North Carolina at the Erwin Center.

The victory was the fourth in a six-game win streak that Texas will carry into a home game against Connecticut on Dec. 29.

Prominent Houston attorney and University of Texas philanthropist Joe Jamail, seen here in 2008, passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 90. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)
Prominent Houston attorney and University of Texas philanthropist Joe Jamail, seen here in 2008, passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 90. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)