Baseball

The State of the Longhorns: With new coaches, AD in place, how far is Texas from being Texas again?

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Story highlights
  • Chris Del Conte: Losing Powers, Dodds, Brown, Barnes, Garrido was a major blow to the university
  • Former AD Mike Perrin: “Greater days are ahead, they just are.”
  • All of UT's smaller sports continue to have incredible success. School generated $214 million in revenue in 2016-17

Posted January 29th, 2018

Perhaps the most impressive thing Chris Del Conte has done since arriving in Austin last December is how he’s carried himself. He’s walked, talked and acted like the Texas athletic director.

Texas needs to get back to being Texas — period,” Del Conte told reporters earlier this month.

Those words may come off as arrogant in print. It’s probably off-putting to those who support other institutions. But it’s a straight-forward statement that carries significant truth. Texas does need to get back to being Texas. Period.

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Of course, Longhorns fans have drifted into a serious malaise over this decade. Mediocre football, uninspiring basketball and baseball led to coaching changes in the school’s only three profitable sports. There was dramatic turbulence in the administrative ranks followed by a two-year period of quiet calm — and more mediocrity.

Texas fans cheer during the AT&T Red River Showdown against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Saturday October 14, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The previous year was one highlighted by major changes in the AD suite and the football offices. Now, 2018 projects as a year where the Texas athletic department continues to find its footing and start moving in an expeditious fashion.

Del Conte has an unshakable belief the state of the Longhorns is still strong.

“It’s a program that’s constantly being hunted,” Del Conte said. “No matter what happens, people are going to take pot shots and try to achieve greatness by saying we beat Texas. We have to embrace that. You have to embrace the idea that your program is the hunted.”

That echos a similar thought former athletic director Mike Perrin had in December. After the Texas Bowl victory over Missouri, Perrin said flat-out, “Greater days are ahead, they just are.

“I believe in these guys,” Perrin said, “I believe in our coaching staff and most of all, I guess I believe in the enduring quality of the University of Texas’ fan base and pursuit of excellence.”

Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte greets fans during a NCAA basketball game against Michigan in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Del Conte references the tectonic shift that happened earlier in the decade. UT President Bill Powers, athletic director DeLoss Dodds and coaches Mack Brown, Rick Barnes and Augie Garrido all parted ways with the university.

“When you lose those people who have already won national championships — we built our swagger off that — you’re going to have a readjustment period,” Del Conte said.

Now, there appears to be total alignment from top to bottom. Current university president Gregory L. Fenves has made a series of moves that bolstered athletics. Del Conte, who was hired away from TCU, is widely considered one of the best ADs in college sports. Coaches Tom Herman, Shaka Smart and David Pierce have all made headline-grabbing strides in recruiting.

Our microwave society expects instant success. That’s simply not how college athletics works. It’s a cyclical business, and as Dodds once said, UT’s lows aren’t lower than others. The Horns are coming off a 7-6 football season capped by a bowl victory. The men’s basketball team is tracking toward a possible NCAA Tournament bid. The baseball team has NCAA postseason goals, too.

The Texas volleyball team has appeared in five of the past six NCAA Final Fours. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

As is always the case, UT’s smaller sports continue to dominate their fields, albeit with lower profiles. Volleyball is rolling under coach Jerritt Elliott. A new tennis facility just opened for coaches Michael Center and Howard Joffe. The waterproof lion, Eddie Reese, continues to assemble national championship-caliber talent in the pool.

“What has surprised me the most is that people within the department are wanting … they’re frustrated,” Del Conte said. “They’re just frustrated that this is still Texas. It is still the great brand, it is still the things that it is. But the outside perception is not the inside reality of what our student-athletes and coaches feel.

“We lost great coaches, but President Fenves is awesome. He has a great plan,” Del Conte added. “We have great young coaches in place, they’re doing great things and they’re fired up about it. But any time you lose that, there’s going to be an adjustment. It’s just like tightening up the rudder on the boat.”

Del Conte is laser-focused on getting UT’s fundraising machine going again. One month on the job, he asked a major booster for $15 million. He’s asking anyone and everyone to contribute.

On the surface, it would appear Texas doesn’t need money. The school hauled in $214 million in revenues during the 2016-17 athletic year, according to audited figures obtained by the American-Statesman. But that doesn’t account for the money needed to build a new basketball arena and possibly finish off the long-dreamed of south end zone project at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

But fans won’t give a damn unless they believe UT’s major sports are headed in the right direction. And they won’t give a dime unless they feel their money is being used wisely. That’s where Del Conte comes in.

Herman snapped the run of three straight losing seasons. His current recruiting class is ranked third nationally by 247Sports heading into national signing day on Feb. 7. Texas is expected to sign 10 of the state’s top 15 players. And Smart’s club is 14-7 after Saturday’s win over Ole Miss.

If football and men’s basketball can find consistent success, it will dramatically alter the entire perception of the athletic department.

Del Conte believes Texas has always been Texas. It’s just that “this big, beautiful battleship needed some repairs,” he said.

“I think our coaches feel that they love the brand, they understand the brand,” Del Conte said. “I came here for that brand to win a national championship across all sports. That is what we have to continue to embrace and who we are.

“It’s not being arrogant. It’s just a fact. Embrace it. Do the very best you can to live up to it.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com

Texas sports: A 5-year glance

How some of Texas' sports programs have fared over the last five years.
FOOTBALL: 31-33
.484 winning percentage
YearW-LBig 12Season
20138-57-2Alamo Bowl (lost)
20146-75-4Texas Bowl (lost)
20155-74-5No bowl game
20165-73-6No bowl game
20177-65-4Texas Bowl (won)
MEN'S BASKETBALL: 91-78
.538 winning percentage
YearW-LBig 12Season
201316-187-11CBI, not the NCAA tourney
201424-1111-7Went 1-1 in the NCAAs
201520-148-10Lost NCAA tourney opener
201620-1311-7Lost NCAA tourney opener
201711-224-14Missed the NCAA tourney
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: 114-55
.674 winning percentage
201312-185-13Missed the NCAA tourney
201422-1211-7Went 1-1 in the NCAAs
201524-119-9Sweet 16
201631-515-3Elite Eight
201725-915-3Sweet 16
VOLLEYBALL: 138-17
.890 winning percentage
201327-316-0Final Four (semifinals)
201427-315-1Final Four (semifinals)
201530-315-1Final Four (final)
201627-514-2Final Four (final)
201727-316-0NCAA regionals (final)
BASEBALL: 167-128-1
.566 winning percentage
201327-247-17No postseason
201446-2113-11College World Series
201530-2711-13NCAA regional
201625-3210-14Missed the NCAA tourney
201739-2411-12NCAA regional
SOFTBALL: 195-92
.656 winning percentage
201351-1014-4College World Series (semifinals)
201435-2312-6NCAA regionals (final)
201538-1712-6NCAA regionals
201638-1610-7NCAA regionals
201733-267-10NCAA regionals (final)

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