A former University of Texas System regent says that he offered to call the agent for Alabama football coach Nick Saban about the coaching job in Austin but that current Regent Wallace Hall Jr. insisted on participating as well.
Booster and former Regent Tom Hicks, who previously owned professional baseball, ice hockey and soccer teams, told the American-Statesman this week that he and Hall spoke with Saban’s agent for 45 minutes in January about the possibility of the Crimson Tide coach replacing Longhorns coach Mack Brown.
Hall wanted to be on the call to Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, because a person whom Hall did not identify had proposed the talk, Hicks said.
“We decided we would make the call together from my house,” Hicks said. Both men live in Dallas.
Hall is being investigated by a state legislative panel for possible impeachment, in part because he has been accused of trying to micromanage the Austin campus. His contact with Saban’s agent is almost certain to be part of the inquiry by the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.
Hicks declined to discuss the substance of the conversation with Sexton. But his brief description of it differs somewhat from that offered last week by Hall, who said in a statement, “Introductions were made and I then withdrew from the process.” Hall, who said his involvement began with “an unsolicited call proposing an introduction” to Sexton, has declined to elaborate.
A statement this week by the UT System’s top two lawyers, Francie Frederick and Dan Sharphorn, explained how Tom Hicks got involved. Hall initially told Gene Powell, then chairman of the Board of Regents, about the unsolicited call concerning “potential interest” from Saban in the Texas coaching job, the lawyers said.
Powell, in turn, asked Regent Steve Hicks, the board’s athletics liaison, about “his thoughts on the situation.” Steve Hicks “referred the matter to Tom Hicks,” his brother, “who has extensive experience in athletics and professional sports, and asked Hall to call Tom Hicks,” the lawyers said.
UT-Austin President Bill Powers says he didn’t learn of these developments until recently. Under the Board of Regents’ rules, he is in charge of athletics personnel.
Of Hall’s involvement in the call to Sexton, Frederick and Sharphorn said, “This sort of very preliminary discussion does not change the fact that the ultimate authority for athletics personnel matters remains with the president.”
Asked why he didn’t give Powers a heads-up about the matter, Steve Hicks said he thought there was a better-than-even chance that the unsolicited call received by Hall was a hoax.
“If there was anything of substance, I would have called,” Steve Hicks told the Statesman. “As I understood the message that came back, Saban would only be interested if it was Mack’s idea.”
Saban said on his radio show last week that he is “just too damn old to start all over someplace else.”
Brown is under contract until 2020 with $5.4 million in compensation this year. Tom Hicks had lunch with the Longhorns coach two days after the conversation with Sexton to tell him about the discussion. Brown made it clear that he wasn’t ready to retire.
“He had a passion for wanting to stay,” said Hicks. “I said, ‘Mack, I’m glad to hear this passion. That’s great.’ ”