This Is Texas Tour Gets Longhorns’ Heads in the Game

At each stop on the This Is Texas Tour, the venue would come alive as a burnt-orange crowd of alumni, future Longhorns, and fans dressed in their gameday best filed in. A country song, maybe a little George Strait or something by Randy Rogers, played in the background as the savory scents of barbecue and Tex-Mex filled the room. Hook ’Em danced around as the audience cheered “Texas Fight!” Whether we were at the botanical gardens in Amarillo, a ballroom in Dallas, or a bar in Corpus Christi, it was clear: Longhorn pride runs deep across the state.

Over the course of five weeks, the Texas Exes and UT Athletics traveled to nine cities around Texas, bringing with them the head honchos of the university’s sports teams. The pep rally-like events, often featuring Longhorn Cheer, Texas Cowboys, and the Longhorn Alumni Band, were a way to connect alumni and Longhorn families to the university while giving them a glimpse into what the next year has in store.

The first stop was Midland, home of Texas football hero Cedric Benson, ’04, and former First Lady Laura Bush, MS ’73, Distinguished Alumna. The event was held at the Commemorative Air Force Museum hangar, where around 200 people showed up to hear from football head coach Tom Herman, men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart, men’s swimming and diving head coach Eddie Reese, women’s basketball head coach Karen Aston, soccer head coach Angela Kelly, and women’s swimming and diving head coach Carol Capitani.

“People love the burnt orange. We are the state school but we also have to act like it too,” began UT’s new athletics director Chris Del Conte, who co-hosted the event with Texas Exes Executive Director Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member. The tour marked a chance for Longhorns to get familiar with Del Conte, who replaced Mike Perrin in January. “I’ve met with every one of our staff members on a one-on-one basis and the greatest thing they say is, ‘Texas wins with integrity,’” he said. “Our coaches are second to none.”

Throughout the tour, Del Conte pushed one consistent vision: gameday will soon be a whole new experience. He made promises to limit the in-game advertisements, like the weather reports and sponsor messages that seemingly follow every play at Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. He wants to remove parking on gameday from San Jacinto Boulevard—which he is thinking about renaming Bevo Boulevard—and turning it into a carnival-like row. He also talked about hosting live music shows on the lawn of the LBJ Library.

The tour also offered an opportunity to connect with potential Longhorns. In attendance at every stop was a representative from UT admissions. “I’ve been on the job about four months now and have really had a chance to experience the power of our network,” Harris said in Dallas. “We wanted to bring the whole university on the road with us and bring it to the alumni.”

The man every audience was eager to hear from was Herman. Though he always declined to answer the most-asked question—who will start at quarterback in the fall?—he assured fans the team is ready for the season and will be a winning program once again. “It’s coming, but it is a process,” he told the crowd in Amarillo.

In Fort Worth, Coach Smart was optimistic about next year’s squad. “I think this team has a chance to be by far the best team that we’ve had so far at Texas,” he said.

And at every stop, he gave an update on Texas guard Andrew Jones, who was diagnosed with leukemia in January. “He’s really been making progress,” Smart said in Midland. “He goes to the local rec center to play basketball. His goal is to play next year and I’m like, ‘Hey man, let’s focus on you getting healthy first.’ But you can tell he’s a fighter.”

Del Conte said he wants to build a 10,000-seat basketball arena, something akin to the Staples Center, and in Houston, he announced he has hired an architectural firm to design a $10 million Hall of Honor in DKR’s Red McCombs Red Zone, mentioning that the UT mega-booster was on-board with the idea. As of press time, about $5 million has already been raised.

“This is why we put this tour together,” Del Conte said to the room in Dallas. We need to own where we’ve been but we need to be damn sure we’re proud to be associated with The University of Texas, and proud to be alums. Period.Now, let’s go put the T back in Texas.”

 
 
 

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