- Travis Haney, ESPN Staff Writer
The Power 5 conference with the fewest members, the Big 12, has the finest collection of athletic directors. That’s the consistent sentiment I get from coaches when they talk about the best bosses for which to work. Other ADs also praise their Big 12 counterparts.
Certainly considered among the league’s best, Baylor’s Ian McCaw and TCU’s Chris Del Conte were recently highlighted as two of the four FBS ADs of the year, according to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
It’s no secret why. Look where Baylor and TCU are now relative to their not-so-distant college football pasts. Baylor was a have-not in the conference, mostly failing in an effort to keep pace with Texas, Oklahoma and others. TCU was a vagabond, carrying its suitcase from league to league before finding a home in the latest round of conference realignment -- and a plush one, at that.
Last season, the schools narrowly missed berths in the initial College Football Playoff. Baylor has won consecutive Big 12 titles. Both will be legitimate conference and national favorites this fall. Talk about making a move.
Of course, there are a number of people who make that sort of evolution and elevation possible, but the person in the AD chair has as much influence as anyone in the process.
“He’s the guy leading the charge day to day,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said of Del Conte, as affable and social as any AD in the country.
Not surprisingly, Patterson said Del Conte serves as a sounding board for him on a number of topics. But perhaps surprisingly, that even included Patterson considering – and ultimately implementing – a hurry-up offense a little more than a year ago.
Patterson said Del Conte approached the potential change to the offense from a big-picture perspective, how it might positively impact attendance and financial giving.
“He looked at how it would help us, in every way,” Patterson said. “We wanted to do this for the university, the city ... everyone."
Generally, Patterson said his boss understands the proper balance between helping and meddling. Also, he has a strong grasp on appropriation of resources. Those are traits of all good ADs, Patterson said.
“As a coach, he gives you what you need to be successful,” he said. “Really, that’s all you could ever ask for. That’s what you want.”
Also in the Big 12 is Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt, recently selected by league commissioner Bob Bowlsby to be the conference’s new representative on the College Football Playoff selection committee. He replaced West Virginia’s Oliver Luck when the NCAA plucked him for a high-ranking position, another achievement for the league’s ADs. Luck will now have an opportunity to influence policy concerning the future of college sports.
Other ADs and coaches rave about John Currie as an up-and-comer at Kansas State; he’ll have a very difficult hire to make when Bill Snyder eventually retires.
And then there’s the venerable Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma. He’s widely recognized by coaches and peers as the best AD in the country because of the balanced voice he brings to myriad issues. Castiglione has been a leader in aggressive football scheduling. He’s been a member of the men's basketball tournament selection committee for several years.
The pragmatic Castiglione is as respected as he is influential.
“Joe is one of the most visionary thinkers in the business,” said Hocutt, whose first administrative job at a school was working under Castiglione at OU. “His unwavering commitment to always consider every angle of a situation is unmatched. He is always thinking about the big picture and the impact of today’s decisions on the student-athletes.
“He always takes the necessary time and patience to be mindful of every decision and action.”
Outside the Big 12, here are some other ADs who regularly highlighted in conversations with coaches and administrators.