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WHAT MIKE PERRIN WALKED INTO AS TEXAS AD AND IF IT'S TIME TO GIVE HIM HIS DUE

Multiple sources told HornsDigest.com a new athletic director at Texas will likely be identified by the end of the calendar year - if not sooner. So before we get too far down that road, it’s time to revisit what current athletic director Mike Perrin walked into as AD and if it's time to give Perrin his due for stabilizing an athletic department brought to its knees by the divisive, 22-month tenure of former AD Steve Patterson.

First, a little background on the condition of UT athletics before Perrin arrived … (OK, more than a little background) ...

Former Texas president Bill Powers dropped a few bombs before leaving office in June of 2014 that had a profound impact on the misaligned world of UT athletics ultimately inherited by Perrin: 

NO. 1 ... The UT Medical School 

A medical school Powers and Texas Sen. Kirk Watson guided onto the ballot and helped push through - right on top of the UT athletic complex (eating up a ton of football tailgating and failing to provide replacement costs for the school’s tennis facility and basketball arena).

NO. 2 … The ugly exits of athletic director DeLoss Dodds and former football coach Mack Brown

Powers stepped in front of UT vice president Patti Ohlendorf as the Tower’s main liaison to athletics during the wildly successful first decade of the 2000s.

That was great when UT football was winning a national championship (2005) and playing for another (2009), UT basketball was going to the Final Four (2003) and Elite Eights (2006 and 2008) and Longhorns’ baseball was winning national titles in 2002 and 2005 and making Omaha its summer residence.

But then to save his own skin as UT president against virulent opposition from four regents appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry, Powers found himself promising he’d help replace Dodds and Brown in 2013 - so an influential group of donors could attempt to hire Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

It all blew up in Game of Thrones fashion on Friday the 13th in December of 2013 - the night of UT’s football banquet. (More on that in a minute.)

NO. 3 … The influence of Jeff Hunt

Powers also allowed UT alum and confidant Jeff Hunt - a paid media consultant to the Pac-12, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott as well as the Pac-12 networks - to push then-Arizona State AD Steve Patterson for the same job at Texas after Dodds was let go in October of 2013.

Powers authorized the hire of search firm Korn/Ferry International to assist in its AD search, as well as appointing a search committee.

In the end, Korn/Ferry’s top candidate ended up being then-West Virginia AD Oliver Luck. 

But Powers allowed an “outside-the-box” candidate - Patterson - to also be interviewed by the search committee at the urging of Hunt.

According to records obtained by HD, Hunt’s consulting firm - Pulse Point - became a part of Powers’ presidential payroll at $300,000 per year beginning in 2010 (when UT was seriously considering joining the Pac-10).

A move by Texas to the Pac-10 was something being pushed like crazy by Hunt to Powers, a Cal graduate who supported Texas joining the Pac-10 and rubbing shoulders academically with the likes of Cal and Stanford.

In hindsight, Hunt having any involvement in pushing Patterson as an AD candidate at Texas had conflict-of-interest written all over it, considering Hunt’s close relationship with the Pac-10 and commissioner Larry Scott, a longtime friend of Hunt.

At Texas, not only was Hunt, a confidant of Powers, he is a longtime confidant of  Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky, dating to when Hunt was an intern for Plonsky when she was the sports information director for women’s athletics at UT in the 1980s.

With Plonsky’s blessing, according to sources inside the department, Hunt would later attempt (in 2015) to become the head of communications for Texas athletics under Patterson (the position previously held by senior associate AD Nick Voinis). But that move was thwarted by Greg Fenves, who also cut Pulse Point from the UT president’s payroll once Fenves took over as UT president in June of 2015.

But before Hunt was cut out of the UT president’s inner circle by Fenves, he was able to convince Powers to have the AD search committee interview Luck before it interviewed Patterson.

So the committee traveled to Fort Worth (the weekend WVU played at TCU in 2013) to talk to Luck first - on Saturday, Nov. 2. According to sources close to the situation, Hunt was made aware of something Luck said that stood out negatively to some committee members.

Luck told the committee if anything was going to happen to Mack Brown (in terms of being let go), Luck would prefer that happened before he took over as AD. 

Sources said Hunt made sure that was relayed to Patterson, who confidently told the committee in Arizona the next day (Sunday, Nov. 3) that as president of the Portland Trailblazers (from 2003-07), he sought 92 staff cuts and got 88 approved by ownership.

“Hunt basically gave Patterson the answers to the test,” one source close to the situation told HornsDigest.com. 

Patterson also boasted to the committee about how he oversaw the construction of then-Reliant Stadium as a member of the Houston Texans’ front office and how building a new UT basketball arena “would be fun,” sources said.

Ironically, the UT athletic department grew from 360 full-time employees to more than 400 in his 22 months as AD, and Patterson ultimately advocated for keeping Brown on as football coach - helping derail any attempt by donors to go after Saban.

In fact, Patterson, after being lobbied by Mack Brown all week about how Patterson would never be in charge as AD if Saban were the football coach, announced at breakfast on Dec. 14, 2013, to 17 recruits on their UT official visit, that Brown was returning as their coach in 2014.

(Two sources close to the situation told HD Powers failed to terminate Brown at a private meeting before the 2013 football banquet, in part, because Mack not only brought his agent/lawyer Joe Jamail to the meeting but also brought Mack’s wife, Sally, like Powers, a Cal graduate whom Powers liked and respected very much.)

Once word got out that Brown had not been terminated, the influential donors contacted Powers and threatened to end their financial support for the university (tens of millions of dollars) if Brown stayed on as football coach, sources told HD.

So, right after Patterson told the recruits on their official visits Brown was staying on as head coach, Powers contacted Patterson and told his new AD - one month into the job - he had to inform Brown immediately that Brown was being terminated.

Sources told HD after Patterson delivered the Code Red to Brown, the 16-year head coach tried to call Powers for hours and never got a response.

THE WRECKAGE OF STEVE PATTERSON

Well, that was just the background on the condition of UT leading into the hire of Charlie Strong as football coach. As we know, UT again turned to Korn/Ferry  - this time for its football coaching search.

It was well-known among insiders that Korn/Ferry headhunter Jed Hughes was giving a high recommendation to Louisville’s Charlie Strong. That’s why immediately after the UT job came open, Strong was promptly a favorite to land the job in Vegas.

According to a source close to UCLA coach Jim Mora, Patterson offered the Texas job to Mora before hiring Strong. But Mora, citing his family’s desire to be in southern California, turned it down, the source said.

As you know from all the reporting we did here at HD on the Patterson regime ( Patterson alienated key UT personnel and donors - link to my big story about Patterson facing increased heat) and was dismissed by Fenves 22 months into a six-year, guaranteed contract paying him an annual salary of $1.4 million. 

Patterson was told by UT president Greg Fenves in mid-September 2015 he would be fired for cause or he could accept a contract settlement, which ultimately totaled $2.9 million.

PATTERSON OUT, PERRIN IN

Enter Houston attorney and former Longhorns’ defensive end under Darrell K Royal - Mike Perrin, who will turn 71 in November - as Fenves’ choice to replace Patterson on an interim basis. 

To say Perrin’s wife, Melinda, didn’t factor into the decision would be naive. Melinda Perrin, the daughter of former Texas attorney general and chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court John Hill,  has been an active member of the Longhorn Foundation Advisory Council and formed a close relationship with Fenves’ top deputy in the UT president’s office - Nancy Brazzil.

Mike Perrin, a great listener meticulous about details, as a lawyer, began surveying the damage left behind by Patterson. 

Perrin reviewed service contracts entered into by Patterson - ranging from Disney (for customer service training) to Aspire (which provided more than a dozen employees - paid for by UT - to help sell season tickets and served as donors’ personal concierge within the Longhorn Foundation).

Upon further review, Perrin was turned off by the Aspire contract and terminated the deal because it called for Aspire to get an increasing cut of the season-ticket revenue. Basically, the more tickets Aspire helped sell, the more money UT had to turn over to Aspire.

“We don’t need anyone to help us sell tickets,” Perrin told HD. 

PERRIN, A BIG-MONEY DONOR, RE-CONNECTS THE BIG-MONEY DONORS

One of the most important things Perrin did immediately after becoming Texas’ AD was reach out to UT’s big-money donors - considering Perrin himself is a UT big-money donor.

“Steve Patterson didn’t leave a wake of good feelings,” said prominent UT donor Corby Robertson, a Houston businessman and football teammate of Perrin under DKR who has known Perrin since they were 17.

“They hired a business guy (in Patterson), and I’m not sure the business guy understood the culture and the passion of UT athletics," Robertson said. "And Steve (Patterson) was not a warm and friendly guy, which doesn’t help at a place where everyone graduates with a degree in football.

“Bringing Mike in made total sense, because Mike has helped the UT law school, the Longhorn Foundation and been an adviser to leaders at the school. His wife, Melinda, has chaired everything at UT there is to chair.

“Mike’s been my teammate since 1965, and any team he’s been on, he’s made a significant contribution. Confidence, trust and appreciation are things he exudes. He has no ego. It’s not about Mike. It’s about the university, and he’s been able to articulate that to alums, faculty and students.”

SUPPORTING CHARLIE STRONG

Robertson said Perrin did everything he could to come in and support Charlie Strong.

One of the first things Perrin did was bring back Strong's preferred communications director - John Bianco - who had been fired by Patterson after Jeff Hunt conducted a survey of some members of the media about Bianco's job performance.

Even though it took a rescue mission to Tulsa with Fenves in tow, Perrin helped make sure Strong got the new offensive coordinator he wanted (Sterlin Gilbert).

Perrin and Fenves were holding out hope Strong could turn things around, and were prepared to bring him back in 2017. All Strong had to do was make sure Texas beat Kansas to reach six wins.  

But the losses to Kansas and TCU, ensuring Strong's third-straight losing season, sealed Strong's fate.

“One of the hardest things you’ll ever do as a manager is fire someone," Corby Robertson told HD. "And I know that took a toll on Mike. But in the end, Mike had to help make a hard decision. And now Mike should be judged on how Tom Herman does.”

BRINGING TRUST BACK TO UT ATHLETICS

Prominent UT donor Mike A. Myers, whose name is on the school’s track and soccer stadium, said, “Mike Perrin was the right guy to come and get things settled down after Steve Patterson because Mike is a guy absolutely everyone trusts. And that’s the way everyone felt about DeLoss (Dodds).

“If Mike tells you something, you can take it to the bank. And a lot of us weren’t feeling that after DeLoss left as athletic director and before Mike got there. 

"We were losing our sense of family, and Mike helped bring that back at a time when it was absolutely imperative. He’s made the athletic director position and the athletic department better for the next person. And everyone should be incredibly grateful to Mike for that.”

Perrin is known for his yellow legal pads. He has one in front of him in every meeting he’s in. He listens and takes meticulous notes.

“That’s the lawyer in me,” Perrin laughed.

TO PUT IT MILDLY, MIKE PERRIN IS THOROUGH

Maybe too thorough, Robertson laughed, when asked about UT's search for new baseball coach David Pierce that seemed to drag on for an eternity (just more than a month) and probably helped at least six coaches, including those at TCU, Texas Tech, Florida, LSU, UCLA and Oregon State, get raises.

“Those agents were reaching out, and I’m sure Mike was making sure every ‘i’ was dotted and every ’t’ was crossed in terms of consideration of candidates,” Robertson said.

“I know Mike liked David (Pierce) from the beginning and had a connection with him. So maybe all that other stuff was Mike being really thorough - and that’s because he cares and wants as much information as he can get before making a decision.”

Perrin was also criticized in some circles for failing to allow Under Armour to bid on UT’s lucrative apparel contract - instead agreeing to re-up with Nike in the fall of 2015 without considering other bids.

But sources said Nike had legitimate concerns about if Patterson and chief financial officer of athletics Steve Hank had violated Nike’s exclusive negotiating period by talking to Under Armour.

Sources told HD at the time Under Armour would’ve paid Texas a record $260 million over 10 years while making Austin its college apparel/branding headquarters.

Sources said there were concerns about how much Under Armour would expect from Texas in terms of helping to promote UA’s college apparel sponsorships. 

In the end, there were also legal concerns - big, legal concerns regarding Nike’s exclusive negotiating period - if Texas went with Under Armour, sources said.

And Perrin didn’t want any more clouds or negativity tied to Texas athletics at that time - especially considering Nike had been a good partner for Texas dating back to their first deal in 2000.

LEAVING IT BETTER THAN HE FOUND IT

Prominent UT donor Bob Moses of Houston said Perrin has made the Texas athletic director position an attractive job for whoever replaces Perrin.

“Mike is all about Texas. He hired Tom (Herman) and David (Pierce),” Moses said. “A lot of the other things he’s had to deal with he inherited. He was definitely the right guy to come in and calm the waters. He went around the state, talking to people who care deeply about the university and helped get rid of the uncertainty in UT athletics that had been there. He restored confidence in the athletic department. Once people meet him, they can tell how genuine he is - immediately.”

Perrin has been busy helping to raise money for the more than $10 million in improvements to the football program, including a completely new locker room, renovated weight room, new LED system for the video board inside DKR as well as an upgraded sound system in DKR that will include speakers throughout the stadium as well as microphones to amplify the Longhorn band.

“Mike and Melinda know a few people who can help out,” Robertson said.

Perrin also stepped up for an additional $1.9 million so a new weight room and training facility would be constructed for tennis and softball as part of UT’s new tennis facility, located across the street from the Longhorns’ McCombs (softball) Field.

But you won’t ever hear Perrin taking any credit for anything. Being athletic director of his alma mater has been a labor of love, said Perrin, who told Fenves he wouldn’t need a contract for the $700,000 salary he’s earning - that a handshake agreement would suffice. That agreement is through the 2017-18 school year.

“When President Fenves called me, I considered it an honor to be instilled with the responsibility he was giving me,” Perrin said. “Melinda and I love UT. We met here. I’ve had a suite with many of my UT football teammates on the east side (of DKR) since they became available.

“I told President Fenves, ‘I’ll help in any way you need me to - for as long as you need me to.’ And when President Fenves decides it’s time to bring someone else in, I’ll step aside and assist that person in any way I can.”

Robertson said of playing on the defensive line with Perrin under Royal, “He held down one end of the line, and I held down the other. He was a great teammate.”

Asked what Royal would think of Perrin serving as AD, a role Royal held while also serving as football coach of the Longhorns, Robertson said:

“Coach Royal would be proud of Mike, because, once again, Mike is putting the team first, and that’s what ultimately leads to success.”

*****

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