Texas officials to launch Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s September meeting with Texas football coach Charlie Strong was the feel good story of the fall — at least as far as the university was concerned.

The coach’s five core values, including honesty and treating women with respect, received national attention as the NFL faced numerous domestic violence incidents. But school officials weren’t sure how to capitalize on the acclaim.

On Monday, UT officials will announce the creation of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation, a first-of-its-kind program designed to help coaches and athletes with various off-the-field issues.

Generally speaking, school officials hope to create a think tank that studies how athletes behave off the field and what can be done to help. Some private groups have smaller studies, but it’s believed that no major university is making this level of commitment.

School officials said this new center would consist of about 25 to 30 academic people. UT President Bill Powers said he’s gathered $300,000 for three years of funding, money that initially comes from the Longhorn Network’s contribution to campus.

The school will formally announce its plans at a news conference at 11 a.m. Monday.

“I think a lot of these lessons and practices may be very useful for our nonathlete students,” Powers said in an interview. “We’re trying to develop them in life preparation ways as well. We’re a very high-level academic institution. But we want to look at the whole ecosystem in getting ready for life.”

Initially, the university wants to create a training and certification program for high school coaches to help them better identify behavioral issues that could manifest later in an athlete’s life.

Daron Roberts, a UT graduate who later coached in the NFL, was at the Sept. 28 meeting with Goodell and Strong. His biggest takeaway was the importance coaches have in an athlete’s life.

“Coach Strong’s articulation of the impact that coaches can have on players really I think had a profound impact on everyone in the room, including the commissioner,” Roberts said. “He highlighted that for so many student-athletes, the coach is that athlete’s No. 1 mentor. He’s his advocate.”

The second point of emphasis is a financial literacy program for athletes that Powers said can be expanded to the entire student body.

This wouldn’t be for athletes who are about to become multimillionaires by turning pro, either. If all the proposed NCAA legislative changes survive court challenges, major college athletes will receive a sizable financial windfall.

The UT athletic department will work closely with the new center. Randa Ryan, who oversees the athletic department’s academic concerns, has been instrumental in helping formulate the curriculum, Powers said.

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