Texas should’ve known what it was getting when it hired Steve Patterson.
A background in professional sports is what ultimately landed him the job. So, not surprisingly, he ran the Texas athletic department like he would run a bottom-line business. With his arrogant approach of treating the Longhorns faithful like consumers, he drove a wedge between the school and the fan base.
And he had few allies in his own athletics department. You would have had better luck finding crimson or maroon in Texas’ Moncrief-Neuhaus football building than finding anyone willing to give Patterson a compliment. And when you’ve become too arrogant for Texas, well, that’s no small feat.
The fans had enough. And Texas officials should’ve known how Patterson would operate before his 22-month tenure came to an ugly close Tuesday.
The catalog of Patterson’s missteps is too long to list in full, but a few are worth mentioning.
Underscoring his bottom-line agenda at what was already the nation’s richest athletic department, Patterson raised football ticket prices even though the Longhorns were coming off a 6-7 season. By contrast, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione has kept ticket prices level in years when the Sooners haven’t met expectations.
By not intervening with Oklahoma State in its breach-of-contract lawsuit against Texas offensive line coach Joe Wickline, Patterson allowed head coach Charlie Strong to be subjected to an embarrassing deposition, in which he couldn’t remember the first name of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.
And while turning his nose up at the possibility of reinstating the rivalry with Texas A&M, Patterson strangely focused his energies on staging a football game in Mexico City.
Even before he began his problematic tenure in Austin, the decisions he made at previous jobs should have sent up red flags.
Texas was enchanted with Patterson’s sports business background derived from stints with the Houston Rockets, Houston Texans and Portland Trail Blazers.
If only they had delved deeper into the resume. Oregonian columnist John Canzano has retold enough horror stories from Patterson’s time as the Blazers' general manager to fill a novel. And Canzano proved prescient when he wrote the week Patterson was hired that fans of teams Patterson was previously involved with would get “an entertaining show with no pain inflicted on the sports teams you care about.”
The Longhorn fans felt the pain. Soon, they would make Patterson feel it. There were plenty of empty seats for Texas’ home opener against Rice. Thousands of tickets reportedly remained unsold for the Red River Showdown with Oklahoma.
It’s unclear what the final straw was for Texas president Gregory Fenves or the UT regents, but the flyover at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium before last Saturday’s game with Rice said it all.
Twenty-two months after bringing him in, Texas mercifully let Patterson go. But not before Patterson’s insistence on putting profits over people had seemingly alienated everyone -- boosters, fans, coaches, administrators, the media and leaders around the conference.
Before settling on Patterson, the Longhorns had a chance to hire then-West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck. In fact, according to Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com, that’s who UT's search firm recommended. Instead, the Longhorns chose Patterson.
Texas made an arrogant decision.
In turn, the Longhorns got an arrogant man.
Now the onus is on the school to find a new athletic director who can repair the damage. Someone who can reconcile relations with the donors and make the fans feel part of the program again, as opposed to just being paying customers. They need someone who understands that while college athletics is a business, it isn’t always about the bottom line. Texas needs an athletic director that will back his coaches, even if means cutting a check. It needs someone who understands that tradition and loyalty can run parallel to the bottom line instead of being overrun by it.
Texas should’ve known what it was getting when it hired Patterson. He's a UT graduate, but he never grasped what that really means to his fellow UT grads and Longhorn fans. That was evident early on. It should’ve been evident beforehand.