In one year, Patterson has thinned the athletic department by roughly two dozen employees. He's also expressed:
1) A desire to play football games in Mexico;
2) No desire to play Texas A&M because it doesn’t “expand the Texas brand;”
3) Booked the men’s basketball 2015-16 opener vs Washington in China for international branding purposes;
4) Vowed to endow all of UT’s athletics scholarships with an initial goal of $250 million in money raised;
5) A new Texas basketball arena (replacing the Erwin Center in 5-8 years to clear space for UT’s new medical school) will cost roughly $450 million.
“More than all the projects cost under DeLoss Dodds combined,” Patterson said.
6) Patterson went on to say Austin should partner up with Texas to build a new arena after having "three and a half decades at no expense whatsoever."
Texas president Bill Powers put out a statement the next day to help clarify that UT wasn't trying to publicly pressure Austin.
On top of those projects, Patterson has been out front saying Texas is already preparing for the likelihood that it will be paying all 500 of its student-athletes a cost-of-attendance scholarship increase of roughly $5,000 per year in the near future.
Patterson said Texas is also preparing for the very real possibility that it could pay an additional $5,000 per student-athlete per year for the use of their image and likeness – a direct result of the federal judge’s ruling in the Ed O’Bannon case that went to trial earlier this year.
It’s fair to say Patterson might be blinded by the price tags of all those initiatives – to the point where he has already made fiscal cuts that threaten to eat away at the invaluable fabric of camaraderie, pride and support essential for athletics to survive and thrive on any college campus.
“It’s clear Steve Patterson is a numbers guy. Well, you can reach all your numbers and have it be a complete failure if you alienate important people along the way,” said one key UT donor who has been left cold by Patterson.
“It’s also how it’s done. This place is too important to too many people for athletics to be run like some cold, bottom-line pro franchise front office. I see a lot of John Mackovic in Patterson. Mackovic tried to tell us how to think and how it was going to be, alienated people, and at the first sight of trouble, he was gone.”
Bob Moses, a prominent UT donor in Houston who played football at Texas, has known Patterson for years. Moses, a member of the UT Athletics Council, said Patterson needs time to execute his initiatives.
“A lot of what Steve has done in the first year is size things up and gather data,” Moses said. “I think you’ll see the result of that in some of the initiatives that will probably begin to be unfurled next year.”
There is no doubt life as a member of the Texas athletic department is 180 degrees different from life under Dodds, who remembered everyone's names and always made time for those connected to Texas.
And that’s part of the reason Patterson got the job to replace Dodds - by vowing to a selection committee deciding between he and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck that he would be unafraid of making hard decisions.
Multiple sources told HornsDigest.com the selection committee was leaning toward Luck as Texas’ next athletic director until Luck told the committee if something was going to happen involving then-UT football coach Mack Brown that he’d prefer it happen before Luck arrived.
Patterson, meanwhile, said hard decisions are part of the job. The committee went with Patterson. When I asked Luck about his interview with the committee shortly after the decision was made to hire Patterson, Luck politely declined to comment.
Six weeks after Patterson agreed to a five-year contract as Texas AD with an annual salary of $1.4 million – up from the $450,000 he was earning as AD at Arizona State - he found himself in a tornado of tumult regarding the future of Mack Brown.
Early in the week of Brown’s forced resignation last December, Brown and Patterson were both in New York for annual college football gatherings at the Waldorf Astoria, and Brown began lobbying Patterson hard to support him in staying on as football coach.
And when Brown and Joe Jamail, Brown’s attorney/agent and a billionaire Texas donor, met with Patterson and school president Bill Powers in a meeting on Friday, Dec. 13 of last year, just before the Longhorns’ football banquet, Patterson expressed support for Brown to continue on as coach.
Powers was somewhat surprised by that, sources said, because Powers was under the impression Brown was going to retire because Texas hadn’t won 10 games, reached a BCS bowl game or won at least a share of the Big 12 title.
After the parties left the meeting, there seemed to be even more confusion.
During the banquet, Patterson announced he looked forward to working with Brown “for many more years.” Presumably as his football coach.
Powers, meanwhile, made no such proclamation during his brief speech at the banquet.
The next morning, at a breakfast in the north end of Royal-Memorial Stadium, Patterson announced to 17 recruits in Austin on official visits Brown would continue to be their coach. By the time those same recruits gathered for dinner, Patterson told them there had been a change of plans and Brown had decided to step away from coaching.
Sources said Powers had heard from some of the school’s biggest donors, and Powers decided there was too much division in the Longhorn family for Brown to stay on as coach after four straight substandard seasons in which Texas had an 18-17 Big 12 record. Powers told Patterson to deliver the news to Brown, sources said.
“At that point, Steve was probably wondering what the hell was he doing at Texas?” said a long-time associate of Patterson. “That situation was a nightmare for someone in his position.”
The hiring of Texas’ next football coach was clearly a decision Patterson and Patterson, alone, wanted to make.
To help Patterson hire the right replacement for Brown, Powers convened the same selection committee Texas used to hire Patterson.
Patterson solicited input from some members of the committee as well as a few other influential boosters at the school. But once he gathered that input on the front end of the search, Patterson never convened the committee or briefed committee members again before announcing the next coach would be Charlie Strong.
Several boosters, including billionaire Red McCombs, said at the time Patterson never returned their phone calls during the search.
“Don’t insult a bunch of people who have helped contribute to making Texas the great university it is by having them on a committee and then never convene that committee,” said one source with direct knowledge of the situation.
“Then, afterward, when it’s clear there has been misdirection and purposeful avoidance in dealings with the very people on the committee who hired Patterson and who have shown a willingness to do anything for Texas, you don’t reach out to those people and explain why you did what you did? That revealed a lot to a lot of people. He’s been a lone ranger since.”
Patterson declined to be interviewed for this story through his spokesman Nick Voinis.
Patterson opted to hire Charlie Strong, the top recommendation of Jed Hughes of the Korn Ferry search firm hired by Texas.
McCombs, who tried to get Patterson to consider Jon Gruden, publicly denounced the hiring of Strong on a San Antonio radio station. Sources close to McCombs said his comments were more out of anger toward Patterson’s handling of the hire than about Strong.
But it’s clear that a number of top donors at the school are sitting on the sidelines, unwilling to write big checks until they get a better picture of where things are headed - both in the athletic department as well as the football program.
“I think a lot of people like Charlie (Strong), and they are cheering for Charlie,” said one big-money booster who has refused to write any checks in the past year.
“But I also think a lot of us who have come through for athletics financially in the past just feel totally disconnected from the department.
“I understand change needed to take place. But alienating some key parts of the base while change is taking place is probably not a good idea.”
Patterson and Strong appear to be on the same page. But a high-level source told HornsDigest.com that after Strong made offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle the ninth player dismissed from the football team on Sept. 23, Patterson asked Strong if that was it for the dismissals?
Sources said Patterson asked Strong the question because the nine dismissals had dragged out across three months. Morale about the program was low after a narrow loss to UCLA on Sept. 13 had dropped UT’s record to 1-2.
A week later, UT regents praised Strong in a resolution for adhering to his core values and encouraged other athletic programs at Texas to do the same. That was also when it was announced WR/RB Daje Johnson was back from a four-game suspension.
Johnson saw his first playing time of the season in a loss to Baylor on Oct. 4.
Patterson helped push through beer and wine sales at UT sporting events, although chancellor Francisco Cigarroa slowed down the launch last February to get more information from Patterson’s office.
The chancellor’s office was blindsided by the planned launch of beer and wine sales and wanted criteria for a “pilot program” determining if UT would need to add security at events; chronicle any disorderly behavior at such events; etc. If the pilot program was successful, it was Patterson’s plan to add beer and wine sales to home football games in the fall of 2014.
Patterson articulated plans for the 2014-15 school year to the UT Athletics Council that already counted on revenue from beer and wine sales at football games.
But those plans had not been articulated to the chancellor’s office. So Cigarroa, on principle, according to sources, ruled beer and wine sales wouldn’t happen at DKR in 2014.
Patterson doesn’t stop in the hall to say hi to members of the department. He has, however, asked members of the department to sign a confidentiality agreement not to leak any information to the press (or they’ll face losing their jobs).
Patterson also asked every member of the athletic department to give at least $75 toward endowing a scholarship. The 75-75-75 fund-raising campaign sought to have 75 percent of department employees give $75 in order to total $75,000 toward an endowed scholarship.
The campaign fell short of its goals (I’m told there was 12 percent participation).
“He’s hard to hug,” said one former colleague of Patterson’s at Arizona State.
Perhaps Patterson is too busy making executive decisions, including choosing not to dip into UT’s athletics reserve fund – usually kept at about $40 million – to pay for a new, $15 million tennis facility.
UT’s previous facility – Penick Allison – was demolished earlier this year to make room for Texas’ new medical school.
The plan under Dodds was to use reserve funds to build the new facility. But Patterson’s philosophy has been that if a sport does not generate revenue, then that sport needs to fend for itself in finding donors to pay for any facility upgrades.
As a result, ground still hasn’t been broken on a new tennis facility, which will take a year to complete.
“We’re still looking at locations,” said Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky.
Few are optimistic that enough donors will step forward, in this climate of a sluggish football season, to fund a new tennis facility.
Right now, the Texas women’s tennis program, which won two national titles in the 1990s, and men’s program, which has reached the national finals and semifinals multiple times in the past eight years, are practicing on intramural courts and playing matches at an antiquated public facility.
If the fund-raising drags on through the spring without ground being broken, UT’s once-proud tennis programs would be without a facility for going on three years and could be on life support from a recruiting standpoint.
Men’s tennis coach Michael Center declined comment, and new women’s coach Danielle Lund McNamara, hired after Texas was turned down by four other coaches, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Patterson cut $250,000 from the Texas band budget - $150,000 in travel and $100,000 in operating expenses for the 2014-15 school year.
That’s a far cry from the times during the last 13 years when the College of Fine Arts would make small cuts in the band budget, and then-athletics director DeLoss Dodds would try to direct some funds to the band to help recoup those losses.
“That was a different time,” said Texas band director Rob Carnochan. “We understand there are other projects under way like replacing the Erwin Center.”
Less band members travel to away games now. And to help offset the band budget cuts, Carnochan said members are being charged fees for the first time ever – totaling $134. In paying those fees, band members get to keep a Nike warmup suit used as “rehearsal gear.”
Patterson gives off mixed messages.
In several interviews, he talked about how an athletic scholarship at Texas, valued at between $65,000 and $77,000 (depending on the sport), is more than the income of most Texas households and should be enough.
That confused the parents of some recruits who couldn't tell if Texas was going to be on board with the total cost of attendance scholarship increase for student-athletes.
Texas A&M has also used Patterson's stance on not wanting to play the Aggies in the future for recruiting purposes - to show Texas is afraid of competing with TAMU and the SEC.
To show he's not afraid, Charlie Strong has publicly disagreed with Patterson's stance, saying Texas needs to play A&M again because the rivalry is too important (and because Texas has the most to gain right now by beating the Aggies in competition).
On the subject of lawsuits seeking better benefits for student-athetes, such as the Ed O'Bannon case, Patterson said they were being driven by "greedy trial lawyers and agents." Some of UT's biggest donors are trial lawyers, including billionaire Joe Jamail.
Patterson often says college athletics does a poor job of telling its story. And some wonder if Patterson has done a poor job of telling Texas athletics' current story to its very own constituents.
An e-mail obtained by HornsDigest.com that was sent from "UT Athletics" to Texas faculty and staff in mid-July said the athletics discount faculty and staff have received for years was being cut dramatically after 2014-15. Needless to say, the response wasn't favorable.
The backlash from some of the 21,000 faculty (3,000) and staff (18,000) has been considerable - to the point where athletic director Steve Patterson may have to completely revise his initial plan.
For years, the Longhorn All Sports Package (LASP) allowed faculty and staff to buy two football season tickets for less than face value at a savings of more than 2-for-1.
Faculty and staff were given access to football tickets at the Tier 2 and Tier 3 level (upper decks on east and west sides of Royal-Memorial Stadium as well as the north end zone). And the LASP program also gave faculty and staff free access to other sporting events, such as basketball and baseball on a draw basis when other LASP tickets went unclaimed.
The faculty and staff were notified in mid-July that their new plan would simply be a 20 percent discount on the face value of UT tickets, more than doubling their current costs.
But the backlash on that proposal reached the Texas administration, which told athletics to come up with a new discount on tickets to UT sporting events for faculty and staff.
"We just don't know what that is yet because we haven't come up with our pricing for football tickets for 2015," Plonsky said.
Plonsky admitted there were no meetings between athletics, faculty and staff in advance of the email going out in mid-July. But she said there have been meetings between athletics, faculty and staff since the email went out.
Several faculty members told me if the initial 20 percent discount remained (and their football season ticket costs doubled), they simply wouldn’t buy football season tickets any longer.
Some said the increased expense would make the tickets cost prohibitive, while others said they would cancel out of principle.
The faculty and staff hear about how Texas is the top revenue producing athletic department, bringing in $165.7 million in 2013, according to USA Today.
They hear about $15 million per year from an unprecedented, 20-year, $300 million contract with ESPN to air Texas' least desirable athletics inventory on the Longhorn Network.
They hear how Texas continues to rank among the top two (only behind Alabama) in licensing revenue for the first quarter of 2014-15, according to Collegiate Licensing.
And they don't understand why athletic department employees would be asked to donate $75 from their paychecks to contribute toward an endowed scholarship before Patterson had even sat down in a room with all the members of the department and introduced himself.
Patterson also said last week that he wasn’t concerned about a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma State against Texas offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, the former offensive line coach at OSU, over play-calling duties.
“We understood the issue, and we’ll leave it up to the attorneys,” Patterson said. “Joe’s former employer and Joe are both represented by competent folks, and we’ll let it sort out where it sorts out.”
When I asked Patterson if he was confident in Wickline’s case or about the possibility of Texas simply settling the lawsuit on Wickline’s behalf, Patterson responded, “We’re not a party to the claim. So I’m not concerned with it.”
That might be tough for Wickline to hear considering he's being sued for $593,873 for breaching his Oklahoma State contract when Wickline is only earning $575,000 this season at Texas.
After all, Patterson paid $4.375 million to buy out Charlie Strong's contract at Louisville.
Patterson has hired at least a half dozen people into the Longhorn Foundation to help raise funds and serve as liaisons to the donors, so they will feel special.
When I asked Patterson last month what his obligation was as athletic director to make top donors feel special and put them in a giving mood, he pointed to his new hires. And then, reluctantly, he pointed to himself.
Ask any athletic director of a Power 5 conference what their role is with the top donors to athletics, and they’ll tell you their job is to personally make sure they are happy.
That’s not Patterson’s style.
"He’s more of a front-office GM," one UT donor said.
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