Steve Patterson arrives as athletic director at a pivotal moment in Texas athletics.
The Longhorns, no doubt, brought Patterson in from Arizona State for his business and marketing acumen, which ultimately is what distinguished him from the school’s other finalist, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck.
Patterson’s background in professional -- not just college -- sports impressed Texas officials. He worked in the NFL with the Texans (1997-2003), and in the NBA with the Rockets (1989-93) and the Trail Blazers (2003-07) as a senior vice president and chief development officer, general manager and team president, respectively. Those experiences will serve Patterson well at Texas. After all, there’s a lot of money flowing through Austin, and Texas is the closest thing there is to being a pro franchise in college sports. Texas’ annual athletic budget hovers around $163 million. That’s almost triple the size of Arizona State’s.
But Patterson’s legacy at Texas, where he holds both an undergraduate and a law degree, won’t only be about how much money he brings in for the Longhorns.
It will also hinge heavily on the coaching decisions he makes in the coming months.
Texas’ football resurgence over the last month has raised morale in Austin. Especially the Longhorns’ 36-20 stomping of Oklahoma.
But a month of good football doesn’t cancel out the fact that the Longhorns are coming off their worst collective year for men’s athletics since the 1970s.
In early 2010, the Texas football team played for the national championship against Alabama. The basketball team spent two weeks ranked No. 1 in the country. And the baseball team earned a No. 2 national seed in the NCAA regionals.
Since then, all three programs have fallen off a cliff.
The football team has recovered from early season losses to BYU and Ole Miss. But the Longhorns remain unranked, and even with this five-game wining streak, are still just 28-18 since the Alabama game.
The basketball team missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 14 seasons, and last month, was picked to finish eighth in the league in 2013-14.
The baseball team has failed to make an NCAA regional the last two years, and last season, failed to even qualify for the Big 12 tournament.
Patterson is expected to be on the job sometime this fall. Almost immediately, he’ll face decisions about what to do with football’s Mack Brown, basketball’s Rick Barnes and baseball’s Augie Garrido -- three longtime Texas coaches who have been successful in the past, but who have struggled lately.
Will he clean house and put his stamp on the program with a series of new coaching hires? Or, will Patterson try to make it work with the coaches he’s inheriting?
The first decision could prove to be the most difficult.
After getting blown out twice in three games to start the season, Brown seemed like a sure bet to be fired having entered the season already on the hot seat.
Texas gave up a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU. The next day, Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replaced him with former assistant Greg Robinson, who had been out of coaching and working as a video analyst for the Longhorns.
The defense didn’t fare much better the following week, as the Rebels steamrolled Texas in Austin 44-23. Things seemed so bad, Brown pleaded with the fans to keep coming to the games, even if they were fed up with him, to support the players.
But after a narrow win over Kansas State and a controversial one at Iowa State, Brown pushed the right button with this team. As two-touchdown underdogs, Texas stunned the 12th-ranked Sooners in Dallas with a convincing 36-20 victory, snapping Oklahoma’s dominating three-year hold in the series.
The Longhorns have been a different team ever since. And at 5-0 in the Big 12, they actually control their own destiny in the Big 12 race and could be favored in every game leading up to a regular-season finale clash at sixth-ranked Baylor.
Brown has given no indication he wants to retire after the season. Meaning Patterson will have to decide whether to keep him. A decision that gets more complicated with every victory.
The other decisions won’t be easy, either.
In the past, Barnes has recruited a bevy of elite talents such as Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge who are now NBA stars. But the Longhorns haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2008. Now, the talent has dried up. Even though Barnes coaches in one of the top states for high school talent, the Longhorns didn't sign a Top 25 class in the Class of 2013 and aren't on pace to sign one this year, either
The Longhorns go into this season without their top four scorers from last year.
The baseball team has fallen on hard times, too.
Garrido, 74, is the winningest coach in college baseball history, including two national titles at Texas and five overall. But last season, the Longhorns placed last in the Big 12 for the first time with a conference record of 7-17.
Dodds, the man Patterson replaces, hasn’t fired a men’s coach in over a decade.
The answer to that could ultimately define his legacy in Austin.