Bohls: State of the Longhorns? Patterson’s got a vision


Steve Patterson has a vision for Longhorns athletics.

A clear-cut, very defined vision for what lies ahead for a Texas athletic program that has struggled nationally on the playing fields, courts and diamonds to keep up with its runaway success off the field in the areas of television networking, fundraising, merchandising and potential sponsors. In short, marry money with titles.

That expansive Patterson agenda, laid out last week to the American-Statesman, could well include a variety of boundary-breaking items like:

  • Playing a big-time Texas football game in, say, Mexico City because as Rockets exec, he once learned there were more millionaires (4 million of them) than there were Houston citizens.
  • Expanding the Longhorns brand into foreign markets like China because once on an Arizona State basketball trip there to play three games in four cities, he discovered UCLA had a “staggering” 70 retail stores there. “What are the big markets we want to activate?” Patterson said. “What games do we play to benefit the broad interest of the institution, not did we go and beat some team?”
  • Growing the budget past its projected $169 million of annual revenue this school year to $200 million a year and saying, “We need to be north of that. Soon.”
  • Finding more distribution outlets for the Longhorn Network amid speculation that it’s close to landing a deal with another large provider and raising its national-high Collegiate Licensing Company annual income beyond its current $9.5 million, ahead of Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan.
  • Improving the department’s graduation rates beyond Texas’ latest Academic Progress Rate of 936 — teams must score at least 925, or a 50-percent graduation rate, to avoid sanctions — for football (though a perfect 1,000 for basketball and baseball and 979 for women’s hoops). More than 100 athletes graduated last school year, not counting 77 former athletes like Vince Young, Terrence Rencher and Luke Axtell who returned and got degrees. Overall, Texas athletes posted a 3.02 GPA and 279 made the commissioner’s Big 12 honor roll last fall.
  • Inviting the Disney Institute to coach up Texas in areas of media relations and customer service as Patterson did at Arizona State, when the school paid in the low six figures for Disney’s expertise on everything, Patterson said, from “where the popcorn stand should be to what the ushers say in their greetings to having them wear name tags.” He thought the connection helped raise ASU football ticket sales by 34 percent.
  • Trimming any excess from what some consider a bloated staff of 393 full-time employees, including Erwin Center staffers. Yet, women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky said, “I sense no walking on eggshells around here.”
  • Locating a place for the new basketball arena in the next couple of years to make way for the Texas medical school at the current Erwin Center site.
  • Keeping the amount of giving to the Longhorn Foundation beyond its current $40 million.
  • Developing, or renovating, facilities like the coming $9 million Player Development Center in the north end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium for the highly successful women’s volleyball team in 2015.
  • Continuing to economize and merge some aspects of the men’s and women’s programs like track, sports information and the business office while allowing the women autonomy under Plonsky. “We are merged,” she said. “The only difference is I’m the point person of women’s sports.”

Oh, and winning national championships.

That would be a good thing, too. And Patterson knows it.

He’s not blind to the fact that of the school’s revenue sports, Texas has won only one national championship since 1970 — football, in 2005. Baseball hasn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament the last two years. Men’s basketball missed the tournament lat year after an impressive run of 14 straight appearances.

But Patterson doesn’t appear to be starting his reign with a sledgehammer. He celebrated his two-month anniversary on the job after replacing DeLoss Dodds in late November and hasn’t yet fired a soul, though he does admit there is some fat that needs to be shed.

“I think you certainly have vagaries of what happens with recruits, with the health of players, with academics that impact how you play on the field,” Patterson said. “Certainly we ought to always be ranked in football and playing for championships regularly.

“We always want to be in the NCAA tournament and be competing for championships in basketball and baseball. I come from Arizona State, and there are probably not two more storied franchises than Arizona State and Texas, and we need to consistently go to Omaha. And we need to turn out successful Olympians in our other sports.”

Since 1983, the Longhorns men have produced just 13 national championships, nine of which came from swimming guru Eddie Reese, who’s in a category by himself. Over that period, the Texas women have accounted for 23 titles, with 11 in track and seven in swimming and diving, though the last one in the pool came in 1991. But Texas by far exceeds other schools in Big 12 titles, even in the past five years with 23, five more than Oklahoma State.

So, looking from the outside, was Patterson surprised Texas didn’t win more?

“A lot of things go into whether you’re ultimately successful every year,” he said. “Every year you’ve got to have a little luck and be healthy, but I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to those kinds of things.”

Does that mean Rick Barnes is safe, or in trouble, after missing last year’s NCAA tournament and not even being good enough to gain an NIT invitation? Sounds like he’s safe, so long as the Longhorns continue their impressive 16-4 run and 5-2 start in Big 12 play.

“Rick made the tournament 14 years in a row,” Patterson said. “He had a rough year last year, but they’re coming back and playing well. They’re on an upswing, and I feel good about that. And I don’t see (low) attendance as merely a function of the head coach.”

Karen Aston has already passed her victory total from her first season on the Longhorns women’s bench and shows clear signs of making this year’s NCAA basketball tournament with a 13-6 mark after missing out a year ago with a 12-18 record. Texas has won just one post-season game since 2005 and has had a winning record in league play just once in the previous eight seasons.

Texas’ women do rank sixth in the official fall standings for the Capital One Cup, thanks to another Final Four run by the volleyball team, which won the national title the year before and has been a perennial championship contender under Jerritt Elliott, the most consistent Longhorns coach not named Eddie Reese. “We’re in the right neighborhood,” Plonsky said.

The soccer team failed to reach the NCAAs. Connie Clark’s softball team broke through with a College World Series appearance last year, but hasn’t brought home a title with superstar pitchers Cat Osterman or Blaire Luna.

Patterson fleshed out his mission statement for the coming years during a recent visit in his office where few things hung on the wall and welcome-to-Austin bags sat in a corner.

It’s very obvious he will make his legacy on expansion in terms of marketing, exposure, branding and — he hopes — winning. He has already carved out his niche by hiring the first African-American coach in a major sport in the school’s history by luring 53-year-old Charlie Strong to Austin.

Don’t look for Patterson to go slowly. He strikes me as a man in a hurry.

He’s already reviewing scheduling and marketing practices, and it wouldn’t surprise if he announced a football game in another country in the near future. Texas-OU in Mexico City?

“No,” Patterson said. “We’re gonna keep playing OU where we are. Another game? Maybe.”

And it’s not hard to imagine Texas teams going overseas and expanding the marketing base there as well. Could a Longhorn booster club in London or a Longhorn Store in Paris be far off? Patterson dreams big, and Plonsky understands that desire.

“This is not a department in a ditch, but some things competitively have to improve,” Plonsky said. “We’ve got some things going extremely well. In others we want to take a jump. We ought to examine everything we do, and Steve is examining how we do marketing, trademark licensing, sponsors, fund-raising, television. Steve is a talented and expert executive. Everybody should be excited and pleased we got someone of his ilk.”

And keep their seat belt on.



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