DeLoss Unplugged

 

UT’s longtime athletics director, DeLoss Dodds, talks conference realignment, the Longhorn Network, the Erwin Center’s future—and his own.

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Let’s start with conference realignment. From your vantage point, were you happy with the result?

I am happy with where we are today. We could be bigger. We could be 14, or 16, or we could be something different than 10. But I love 10 for the simple reason that we don’t have to do a football playoff game. Over time if you look at the SEC, the Big 10, the Pac 12, and that championship game they have to play, and look at how that impacts them in the new BCS format, I think we will be much better served without a championship game.

Take us back to the time when there was a lot of instability and schools were leaving or threatening to leave. What happened there?

We didn’t start anything. We studied things. I’ve watched some other schools that made changes, and I think some of those changes were made out of fear that they were going to get left out. I think some left because they didn’t like the fact that Texas played such a huge role in the conference. In the end, we hated that we lost A&M. They’re the state of Texas; they’re Texas kids. Their alums are Texas people, and in our minds it wasn’t a good thing that we separated.

There’s a line of reasoning out there that we sent A&M packing. Is that true?

No, absolutely not. We were on the side of trying to talk them into staying. Some people that left tried to find reasons to leave, and the reason that was most convenient for them was the Longhorn Network. But that absolutely is not true. If you dig to the bottom of why each school left, the Longhorn Network had nothing to do with it.

dodds_deloss_past_002There’s this ruckus with Aggies saying, “Oh, we want to play Texas. We’re just waiting for Texas.” What’s the likelihood of us playing them again?

I’ll guarantee you they don’t want to play us. They like what they’ve got. If they wanted to play us, why wouldn’t they schedule Oklahoma or Notre Dame? Somewhere down the road we’re going to play A&M again. You know, we’re going to have to. We need to; it’s the right thing to do. The relationship should be good, and we’ll work to make it good.

If we hadn’t stayed in the Big 12, where might we have gone?

We could have done anything. We could have been an independent, in the Pac 12, the Big 10. Had we given up the Longhorn Network, we could have been in the ACC. Obviously we could have been in the SEC. [We] basically came to the conclusion that we were not going to move kids all over the country for competition. We were going to keep them here, keep a nucleus of good schools in our conference, and know that if we could do well in our conference we could do well nationally.

One thing I think is not well understood is the rights situation. Could you explain briefly the premise of the tier system and how that factored in the creation of the Longhorn Network?

The Longhorn Network started 10 years ago, and we sat a staff meeting and we looked at tier-one TV. We looked at everything that wasn’t covered and we said, “Let’s try to build something that will allow us to televise tennis, golf, track, baseball, soccer, and volleyball.” There’s a lot good stuff there that wasn’t really getting exposure. That’s what we call tier three. Of all the things I’ve been associated with in 32 years in Texas—starting the foundation, building facilities, all those things—the Longhorn Network, 10 years from now, will maybe be the biggest thing we did.

Why do you say that?

It’s just going to separate us from everybody else. It probably will help the institution more than it helps Athletics in the end. I watched graduation on it, and it was really, really good. When we get distribution—and it takes time—everybody that said negative things about it will say positive things about it. And I’m not saying the SEC or Big 10 or Pac 12 did the wrong things by doing a conference network, because they’re going to have a beautiful network, and it’s going to be a lot money. But Florida’s going to sit down there, and they’re going to be one-fourteenth of something. And Ohio State is going to be one-fourteenth of something and USC’s gonna be one-twelfth of something, and we’re going to be 100 percent.

Last season, Coach Brown expressed some frustration with having to maybe spend as much time with Longhorn Network as he has.

That was a day where things were going wrong for him, and if he had that day to play over again, he would not have said those things. We went through conversations about how we can make it easier for him, and some adjustments were made. But Mack is 100 percent behind the network.

Can you talk about the academic record of UT Athletics?

People ask me: What do you wake up in the middle of the night worried about? I used to say academics. Because this is not a place where you can bring a youngster in and say, “Go over here because it’s easy.” You say, “Friend, you’ve got to go over there and you’re going to sit in there with the best of the best, and you’ve got to compete.” And so that’s always worried me. We’re graduating kids. When you see graduation rates, they might disappoint a little bit, but behind the scenes if you want to go look at the records, we’re bringing back kids.

dodds_w_media_s10001dwcWe, Texas, pay for former students to finish their degrees?

We pay former students’ scholarships so they can get their degrees. T.J. Ford is a young man who has made a lot of money. He’s coming back. Kevin Durant wants to come back, and he is. We’ll pay a full ride.

Why do we do that?

Because it’s the right thing to do. We went through records to find people who were close but didn’t graduate, and we found a person that was nine hours short. He was 50 years old, I believe. [We] went and got him and said, “Bud, you’ve got to get a degree.” Brought him back on campus put him over in the School of Business said, “OK you guys figure it out. You’ve got to have nine hours, let’s get it done.” And they did—he graduated, they had a big party. [That was] Tom Kite.

There’s a medical school coming, and as part of that discussion there was the revelation that there’s going to be a replacement for the Erwin Center. What’s the plan for that?

We’re in the process right now of looking at all of the options. If it were me I would want it downtown. I’d want it near the interstate in an area where there are businesses, hotels, restaurants. Put it somewhere where there’s a life.

There’s been a lot of hay made about the three big sports (football, basketball, and baseball), and in particular the men’s coaches in those. What are you saying to people about their performance and their job security?

In athletics, you go through cycles. And at Texas, it’s different than at other places when cyclical means you stay pretty close to the top. Fans are not cyclical. Fans want to be at the top all the time. So there’s a conflict there. If you look at football programs around the country that had successful coaches (Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, R.C. Slocum at A&M), you know that when people are successful, they hit a two or three year lull, fire the coaches, and then look at what happened to them after. I think A&M went through three coaches. Tennessee still is going through coaches.

Do you worry the same thing would happen here?

The learning curve is huge here. Mack came in as ready as any coach I’ve ever seen for a job, and he was not totally ready for this job. This job is hard. It’s different. And it takes time to get into it and learn it. Mack’s honorable, follows the rules, and he’s a great person. The kids come first. He is class. And we’ve had two or three years that have been less than what we’ve wanted, and we could start a revolving door thing …[but] you’re going to take a chance on whomever you bring in. It’s just not a gamble that we need to take. If I went out looking for somebody, I’d go out looking for Mack.

What about the baseball team failing to make the postseason for the first time in 14 years?

Baseball is fine. I just think it was a year that you don’t want to live through, but we did. We’re going to be fine. Augie’s the same guy that won the national championship however many times. I worry more about basketball. Rick has done us a great job, Rick’s got class, [he’s] who we want. He does a great job with kids, he does a great job academically, but we’ve got to get it done. And that’s what probably worries me more than the others.

dodds_deloss_9601Why can’t we energize people with basketball?

Texas people are football people. Basketball is not attended in high school like it is in Indiana, or Kentucky, or North Carolina where that’s their passion. That’s their culture. We just need to win. I think when we were winning, people were showing up, and it was a pretty good atmosphere.

What’s next for you?

I’m 75. I love what I do. Bill Powers is the most important person on this campus, and he and I talked about this. I want him to pick the next athletics director. I think he would pick the right person for all the right reasons. I could retire today or I could retire next year. My contract allows me to be part time until 2020.

Is there anything else that you want alumni to know?

We’ve got great fans—they’re passionate. And with passion you get the good and the bad. If Texas pulls together, there is nobody that can beat Texas. If we pull [apart], we’re normal, we’re average. But if our community is on the same page, nobody can get in our way.

From top, Dodds has guided UT Men’s Athletics to 14 national championships; in 1959, Dodds was a football, basketball, and track athlete at Kansas University; Dodds greeting the media at an event in 2010; Dodds attending a football practice in 1999.

Photos courtesy UT Athletics.

 

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