A University of Texas System regent took a rare and controversial step when he spoke with the agent for the University of Alabama’s football coach about the coaching job at the Austin campus.
UT System officials say Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. of Dallas didn’t violate a Board of Regents’ rule that puts university presidentsin charge of their athletics personnel. Others aren’t so sure.
UT-Austin President Bill Powers wasn’t in the loop when Hall conversed by phone in January with Jimmy Sexton, the agent for Alabama’s Nick Saban, about the possibility of the Crimson Tide coach replacing Longhorns coach Mack Brown. Booster and former regent Thomas Hicks was also on the call, which the media learned about last week as UT was reeling from back-to-back losses to Brigham Young University and the University of Mississippi.
Regents Rule 20206 says the governing board’s role in athletics is to provide “oversight and broad policy guidelines.” The campus president has “ultimate responsibility and authority for the operation, fiscal integrity, and personnel of the institution’s athletics program.”
Hall’s contact with Sexton was a “very preliminary discussion” that did not violate the rule, UT System lawyers Francie Frederick and Dan Sharphorn said in a statement.
Two former chairmen of the regents said they couldn’t recall another example of a regent wading into athletics without buy-in from the campus.
“In the six years I was on the board, we did not get involved in anything that had to do with athletics unless it was first brought forward by the school, and usually by the athletic director,” said H. Scott Caven Jr.
James Huffines, a former two-time chairman of the regents, said, “It’s highly unusual for a regent to get involved at this level in athletic matters who is not the board’s athletic liaison.”
Hall declined to elaborate on a previously issued statement in which he said he received “an unsolicited call” from a person he did not identify “proposing an introduction” to Sexton. “I notified then-Chairman Gene Powell, who informed Vice Chairman and Athletic Liaison Steve Hicks, which resulted in a conference call” with Sexton. “Introductions were made and I then withdrew from the process.”
Regent Steve Hicks and former Regent Thomas Hicks are brothers. Steve Hicks said Hall was advised that dealing with a sports agent is not a matter for a member of the board of regents.
Hall’s foray into athletics is virtually certain to be examined by a state House panel charged with recommending whether he should be impeached. Among other things, Hall has been accused of demanding massive amounts of records from the Austin campus, leaving some lawsuits out of his application to be a regent, and stepping outside his policy role into micromanagement.
To the question of whether Powell authorized Hall to discuss the coaching position with Saban’s agent, the UT System lawyers replied that no such authorization was sought or needed.
Powell asked Steve Hicks “his thoughts on the situation,” Frederick and Sharphorn said. “Hicks then referred the matter to Tom Hicks, who has extensive experience in athletics and professional sports, and asked Hall to call Tom Hicks.”
Hall’s dealings with Saban’s agent “appear to be inconsistent” with the regents’ rules based on Hall’s own account of events, said Gordon Appleman, a Fort Worth lawyer who serves on the executive committee of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which has defended the Austin campus in its disputes with Hall and other regents regarding fundraising, records and other matters.
Approval by the Board of Regents is required for head coach contracts of $250,000 or more. Brown is under contract until 2020 with a salary of $5.4 million this year. Saban said on his radio show last week that he is “just too damn old to start all over someplace else.”
Powers says he only recently became aware of the conversation with Saban’s agent when it was reported on a fan website.
The UT president told cable TV channel YNN this week that Brown and men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds have his full support. Regarding any personnel changes in athletics, Powers said, “The athletic director reports to me. I would be not just heavily involved — that is a presidential choice.”