If you are the athletic director of a sports program that raked in over $161 million in 2014 and is part of a university that receives $3.45 billion in endowments what do you tell your athletic staff at meal time? If you are University of Texas AD Steve Patterson you tell your coaches to pay up!
Several reports have emerged criticizing Patterson’s bottom-line CEO narrative with Longhorn coaches leaving their positions over the $10 per meal fee now charged to eat in the athletic dining hall.
In fairness to Patterson (above right, with football head coach Charlie Strong and former University of Texas president Bill Powers) each coach is given 30 free visits to the athletic dining hall each year, or 2.5 meals per month, to sit with other coaches and players bonding outside a group’s given sport. Patterson’s rationale is to shave $300,000 a year off the budget, the estimated cost of feeding the various Longhorn coaching staffs throughout a given year.
Another possible point in Patterson’s favor is the $7.50 discount each coach receives per paid meal. The cost of each meal is valued at $17.50. A mark against Patterson is the $0.50 price increase from last year. They do not take credit cards and per the memo sent out by Dave Marmion under Patterson’s orders on Aug. 11, 2014, “Like any cash business, if you show up without cash you will need to go find some (cash) or eat somewhere else that day.”
Generally speaking when one thinks about coaches coupled with money many relate to the million dollar contracts head coaches receive in football and basketball. Those types of salaries do not translate to other sports like tennis, swimming and diving, and so on. The greater impact of charging for meals are met at the lower coaching levels where video coordinators, assistant strength coaches, and graduate assistants essentially work for free or next to nothing to get experience on their resume to start the tough climb up their coaching ladders. In the long run this negative effect works its way back up to the hierarchy of the coaching staff.
The rumblings from Patterson’s underlings have made their way above his head with new Texas President Greg Fenves giving his AD a directive to change his ways in mid-July.
Patterson’s personality has not just rubbed his subordinates wrong but has also upset donors and alumni as well. A report from HornsDigest.com cited a story by Sally Lehr, an alumni member in Austin for a 50th reunion celebration, saying Patterson asked for $25 from each of the 158 people in town for the celebration to step foot on the field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Lehr explained the run-in stating, “He (Patterson) said it was expensive to allow people on the field. They had to turn on the lights. They had to have people leading the tour and a groundskeeper (on hand). He said if athletics had to pay for all of that, they might have to cut the donation they made to the UT library. I was stunned by his arrogance and avarice.”
The bad publicity from the occasion gets worse when Lehr adds that the initial cost was supposed to be $15 per person but was then raised to $25. To make the ill will between Lehr, who attended the celebration with former Longhorns’ athletes in the mix, and Patterson a notch worse, Lehr’s stepfather was the sports information director for the Longhorns from 1961-83.
One might think the 57-year-old Patterson would have more of a soft spot for other alumni being a graduate of Texas himself.
Patterson has little support from the fans after he raised football ticket prices. After the Longhorns posted a 6-7 season in 2014, ticket prices saw an average increase of 21.5 percent. Because of the jump in prices fans said thanks but no thanks. The total number of 2014 season tickets who did not renew was in the neighborhood of 10,000 for the 2015 schedule.
One would think Patterson would have a better pulse on the fanbase and Texans in general, as he and his family have been deeply intertwined in Texas sports for decades. His father, Ray Patterson, was the general manager for the Houston Rockets from 1972-90. Steve succeeded his father as the Rockets' GM, holding the position from 1989-93. After leaving the Rockets he was the Governor, President and General Manger of the Houston Aeros (hockey) and then became the Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer for the Houston Texans (1997-2003). In 2003, Patterson returned to the NBA as President of the Portland Trailblazers. On March 28, 2012 he was hired as the Vice President for University Athletics and Athletics Director for Arizona State. When DeLoss Dodds retired as AD, Patterson was hired to replace him at Texas on Nov. 5, 2013.
With Patterson in control of the athletic department for nearly two years the Longhorns have won one national championship (Swimming and Diving) and notched eight Big 12 Conference Championships (Golf – 2, Swimming and Diving – 2, Baseball – 1, Tennis – 1, Track and Field Indoor – 1, and Track and Field Outdoor – 1).
Banners in big-money sports like basketball and football will be the determining factors on how long Patterson maintains his position. For now his seemingly tenuous grip on that role is a big question mark with two new coaches in Austin, men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart (formerly at VCU) and second-year head football coach Charlie Strong (Louisville).
Both Strong and Smart are rightfully lauded as winning coaches due to their resumes, which should give Patterson some breathing room. If Strong and Smart grow tired of Patterson’s antics while producing winning teams a change at the top of the Longhorns' athletics hierarchy could potentially come much sooner than expected.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.