AUSTIN, Texas -- Steve Patterson might not have the arm Oliver Luck possesses, but give him credit: He knows how to throw a good curveball.
One week after reports emerged that he’d already turned Texas down, and amid weeks of speculation that pegged West Virginia’s Luck as the undisputed front-runner, Patterson is leaving Arizona State to become the next athletic director at Texas.
Handing the keys to the most powerful athletic department in the country to Patterson makes sense considering what Texas seeks. The only way to replace the irreplaceable DeLoss Dodds after 32 years was to find a big-picture visionary and an even sharper businessman.
Luck has all the things you’d look for in a Texas AD: cachet, experience, a UT law degree and a spot on the College Football Playoff committee.
But Patterson was the choice because he’s a game-changer. He’s well equipped to inherit Texas athletics in its current state because he has a track record of making significant, immediate change.
Patterson helped bring the creation of Reliant Stadium to fruition. He brought Super Bowl XXXVIII and the 1989 NBA All-Star Game to Houston. As a GM, he’s credited with constructing the 1993-94 Houston Rockets team that won an NBA title. His fingerprints are all over several other projects in his six years creating and running Pro Sports Consulting.
When you’re accustomed to making those kinds of Texas-sized projects happen, imagine what can be achieved by joining forces with the richest power in college athletics.
Patterson faced an uphill battle as COO and then AD at Arizona State, taking over a department that made $55 million in revenue and needed to get to $100 million to become successful. When he started, facility upgrades were on hold. Coaching vacancies needed to be filled. There wasn’t enough money or resources.
His time in Tempe was spent in dedication to fixing up the business side of Sun Devils sports, and then to big-time facility decisions and an ambitious project, known as “The District,” for long-overdue rebuilds, including Sun Devil Stadium.
Money and funding will not be an issue in his new gig. Texas prints money, to the tune of $160 million in revenue a year. He’s getting a raise of nearly $1 million from the $450,000 a year he made in Tempe. And he’s taking over a machine as well-oiled as any in college athletics.
What Texas needed was someone with a plan to stay ahead of the game, to remain the titan it is today. There will be facility decisions on his plate in the near future, but those aren’t nearly as daunting as the problem solving he’ll face from a personnel standpoint. And Patterson isn’t a stranger to that responsibility.
He reportedly made as many as 100 personnel changes in two years at ASU. He oversaw similar turnover as president of the Portland Trail Blazers. He has a reputation for cleaning houses and building better ones.
Terms like “culture change” and “transitional periods” get thrown around a lot in discussing who should take over Longhorns athletics. But what Texas needed, what it always had in Dodds and must always have in his replacement, is a shrewd businessman with a plan.
And at the end of the day, that’s what Texas athletics is: One gigantic, wildly rich and financially successful business. Dodds created it, and nobody can fill his shoes. But if Patterson's past work is any indication, he won't be daunted by the challenge.