New Texas interim athletic director Mike Perrin’s not asking for my advice. I’m sure Perrin, a former Texas defensive end for Darrell Royal and successful Houston trial lawyer, is working overtime trying to get familiar with everyone and everything going on in the athletic department.
But after covering the Longhorns’ program for 23 years and having spent months reporting on the changes former Texas AD Steve Patterson made and – perhaps most importantly - HOW he went about them, I’ll offer a Top 10 list of changes I'd make as soon as possible.
The top two priorities of any athletic director should be the student-athletes and the coaches who teach and mentor them. After that, it’s undoubtedly fund-raising and providing great experiences for your fans – especially on game day.
So with that in mind, here’s a Top 10 list of changes Perrin could make that would probably have his student-athletes, coaches and/or fans jumping up and down:
#1 … Settle the contract dispute lawsuit between Oklahoma State and Texas assistant football coach Joe Wickline.
With Texas playing Ok State this week and news that OSU officials are expected to seek a second round of depositions from Charlie Strong, Joe Wickline, Shawn Watson as well as the deposition of QB Tyrone Swoopes – it’s time to end this mess.
Who cares that it’s a suit between Wickline’s former employer and Wickline and that Texas is not named in the case?
Wickline is a coach for the University of Texas now. And even though his salary is $575,000, he lives in an apartment (while other assistants have bought houses) - until he knows how he’s going to come out of the lawsuit.
Former athletic director DeLoss Dodds would’ve settled that suit in five minutes. Why? Because coaches who come to Texas should be excited about the opportunity, not have a financial cloud hanging over their head for two straight years. Is that the Texas way?
Steve Patterson told Strong and Wickline they were on their own and didn’t even return Holder’s phone calls when OSU attempted to settle it.
So instead of doing what was right for Strong and Wickline and sending a message to all of the coaches on the football staff that at Texas you will be supported, Patterson left Strong in a compromised position.
Patterson knew Wickline’s contract at Oklahoma State said if he left Stillwater for anything less than an offensive coordinator position “with play-calling duties” he’d owe $300,000 and if it was a school in the Big 12, it would be $593,000.
According to sources, Patterson’s response to Strong was, “Well, it sounds like you better hire him to be the offensive coordinator” – even though Strong made it clear to Patterson that Shawn Watson would be the one running the offense.
So instead of making sure his football coach was never in a position to have to compromise the No. 1 tenet of Strong’s five core values – honesty – Patterson did the opposite.
Strong has told the truth throughout – repeatedly saying when the staff was announced Watson had the final say in play calling.
So end the charade.
It’s been a bad look for Texas and a bad look for the Big 12 Conference, because everyone knows Joe Wickline has been the offensive coordinator in title only.
The Texas football coaches need to worry about game plans and recruiting and building a program that has always paid the athletic department’s bills.
That’s demanding enough without adding depositions and lawyer’s hourly fees and a trial early next year in Payne County, Oklahoma, about if Wickline or Watson was running the offense at Texas until two weeks ago (when Jay Norvell was put in charge of the offense).
Oklahoma State’s lawsuit seeks $593,000.
But OSU officials really just want what’s fair and would probably take $250,000 to $300,000.
Tell OSU athletic director Mike Holder, who is a straight-shooting, fair guy, you’ll pay it off in $50,000 payments over the next five to six years and be done with it.
#2 … Discount and/or give away the 15,500 unsold tickets for Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State.
There were 15,000 unsold tickets for Rice on Sept. 12 and 11,000 unsold tickets for Cal last weekend.
UT officials, including you Mr. Perrin, have said they are concerned about the empty seats at football games and want the football players to have a full house. So make it happen.
Quickly arrange to sell the remaining tickets for $10 apiece and give away whatever is left on Friday.
UT used to sell excess football tickets for $8 at local grocery stores. No one wants that kind of throwback sale, because it speaks to a lack of demand. So turn a negative into a positive for folks who would normally find a Texas football Saturday unaffordable.
The unsold tickets have a lot to do with 10,000 football season ticket holders not renewing for 2015, primarily out of disgust that their costs went up an average of 21.5 percent after a 6-7 season and being told they couldn’t resell their tickets.
Use football as an example that as the new, interim leader of Texas athletics, you are willing to go to great lengths to make sure the coaches and student-athletes are supported – something they haven’t felt in two years.
#3 … Take care of your student-athletes on the most difficult road trips
It may be too late to restore the charter flight that was cut for your perennial power, national-title-contending volleyball team to West Virginia for Friday’s game.
If it’s not too late, do it for them.
If it is too late, make sure they have a charter flight for their Oct. 21 game at K-State. Getting to and from Manhattan, Kan., is the second-most difficult trip in the Big 12 via commercial airfare – second only to Morgantown, WV.
#4 … Don't make your coaches count meals
Let your coaches have unlimited meals in the athletic dining hall – the way it used to be – instead of giving them 30 meals per year before they have to pay $10 per trip out of their own pocket.
#5 … Take care of the Longhorn Band
The band had $250,000 ripped out of its budget - all at once - by the previous athletic director and had to start charging members $132 for their practice and travel gear. Former band director Rob Carnochan left (taking a job at the University of Miami).
So at the very least, make sure the full band goes to all the in-state football games, especially Texas Tech, which has long been considered “a battle of the bands” among the two largest marching bands in the state of Texas.
#6 … Compete with Kansas basketball in recruiting (at least in travel)
Restore the basketball team’s 737 charter (with 50 first-class seats) - making Texas and Kansas the only schools in the Big 12 to have it.
Your 7-foot basketball student-athletes won't be folded up in cramped commercial seats, and Shaka Smart will be on a level, recruiting playing field (at least when it comes to travel) with Bill Self and the Jayhawks.
#7 … Have your baseball team travel the way Oklahoma and Texas A&M travel
Those schools fly commercial or charter to every baseball game located further than a three-hour bus ride.
So go back to flying the baseball team to Lubbock, Norman and Stillwater instead of putting them on seven-hour bus trips, which has been the case the past two years.
#8 … Quit nickel-and-diming those who love Texas the most
Get rid of the $25 fee Patterson charged alums to go on the field at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium during their reunion weekends and make it free again.
#9 … Provide as much of a human touch as possible.
When Texas faithful call the Longhorn Foundation, the fund-raising arm of Texas athletics, with a question or concern, have a human being answer the phone instead of a recording – the way it used to be.
#10 … Smile and say hi to people you pass in the hall.
Get to know your coaches and if they have kids or what makes them tick. Have as many coaches as you can report directly to you.
None of the coaches have been reporting directly to the athletic director. That will be a welcomed change.
You’re a trial lawyer who can read people, make sure everyone still employed in the athletic department is all about Texas and not some alternate agenda.
You have a great smile. So smile. A lot. That will make a huge difference.