Mario Sategna’s résumé screams success.
The positives are clear to see.
He’s an accomplished, popular, 10-year Longhorns associate head coach who understands the culture as well as the advantages and disadvantages here.
He has a calm, even-keeled personality and a reputation as a church-going family man. He has a presence to him. One rival coach called Sategna “a good hire” and “a unifier.”
The 40-year-old New Mexico native has an Hispanic heritage, no small item since Texas just engineered the dismissal of a highly successful African-American women’s track coach.
His decathletes and long jumpers have had outstanding credentials in the NCAAs and Olympics, and he was an NCAA decathlon champion at LSU.
With those kinds of qualities, the new head coach of the Texas men’s and women’s combined track and field program is not only a landmark hire, but a smart one.
A few other things scream gamble.
- The school is merging the two programs for the first time, and with that comes a lot of pressure. Sategna expected a small gathering of one or two media members at Wednesday’s press conference. He got more than a dozen.
- Sategna simply hasn’t been a head coach before. This marks the first time in DeLoss Dodds’ 32 years that he has elevated an assistant or associate head coach to the top job. Texas is not a great place for the unproven. It demands experience on tons of fronts.
Sategna gets high marks from others at the university, including Mack Brown, who could share future football players as he has with wide receiver/long jumper Marquise Goodwin and running back/sprinter Jamaal Charles. That could go a long way toward establishing a strong link for Sategna.
- He hasn’t coached women athletes. Sategna will also have to heal some wounds left over from the messy dismissal of women’s track coach Bev Kearney from the university for an inappropriate, intimate relationship with a track athlete. He said he has interacted often with the Longhorn women and said they were tremendously accepting when he approached them at their hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, last week at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships after getting the job. “My job is to move the program forward, not move it laterally,” he said.
- He has to work within the restrictive academic parameters of the university that have been contributing factors to Texas’ mystifying lack of success in recruiting and developing male sprinters. But he’s young enough not to get easily frustrated.
Bubba Thornton, the men’s coach who recently retired with a platinum parachute that included a full year’s salary of $203,000, never had the success with sprinters that he did at TCU. Sategna took a big stride in improving that by landing highly respected Tonja Buford-Bailey, the head women’s track coach at Illinois and a former three-time Olympian who will oversee men’s and women’s sprints, hurdles and relays.
Dodds said Sategna told him he will emphasize improvement in the sprints and is pumped over the arrival of Jamaican sprinter Senoj-Jay Givens. “We have one of the strongest sprint groups in America on the women’s side, and they’ll help us get rolling on the men’s side,” Sategna said.
- There was a world of qualified candidates outside the 512, but Dodds said Wednesday he didn’t interview a single other candidate. Asked why not, Dodds told me, “That stirs it. We looked nationally and studied five or six different coaches, but didn’t interview them. If you were sitting with us (during the deliberations), you’d have come to the same conclusion.”
Dodds and women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky have to hope their instincts are right.
“We’re there right now,” Sategna said. “We’re ready to reach the next level.”
Sategna certainly makes a lot of sense on a lot of levels, but one can’t help but wonder why Texas didn’t make a strong run at Texas A&M’s Pat Henry, who wins national championships more often than he changes underwear.
But Sategna will have great resources, including former Longhorn Hall of Fame track coach Stan Huntsman, who sent him a congratulatory email. Huntsman and Thornton never got along, but Sategna has an ally there.
“It surprised me, but I don’t think there was any other choice,” Huntsman said. “If anyone ever deserved it, it’s Mario. He’s just an outstanding coach.”
Dodds is banking on it.
“He’s just the best person for the job,” Dodds said.