Eric Hyman isn’t sure he would have taken the Texas A&M athletic director’s gig had the Aggies stayed in the Big 12.
“I’ve never really thought about it from that perspective,” he told FOXSportsSouthwest.com. “One of the things that attracted me was that I think I can help Texas A&M make that transition to the SEC.”
Hyman is experienced with big-time transitions. He turned doubt into belief at two schools that now expect to win at the highest levels of college sports.
He has the blueprint. He knows it’s going to take time to execute. Persuading Aggieland to buy into both at a time when the university embarks on its 100-year decision is Job One waiting on Hyman’s desk once he moves into his third-floor office at Reed Arena.
It just better not take 100 years.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Hyman said, between packing boxes at South Carolina. “It did not happen at TCU overnight and did not happen at South Carolina overnight. It just takes time to be able to do it if you’re going to do it the right way.”
A&M built a strong overall program under previous athletic director Bill Byrne, culminating in national championships in a number of “non-revenue” programs. For those who bleed maroon, bringing home trophies in women’s basketball, men’s golf, and men’s and women’s track are sources of pride. If you’re gonna play, you might as well win.
Football, uh, there’s the issue. The Aggies demand greatness on the gridiron. This is Texas, after all. A&M wants to be in the elite. BCS bowls. Made-for-TV playoffs. Relevance.
Getting A&M to that level is hard for those at Texas or Oklahoma to fathom. Or even TCU. After more than a decade of sloshing their way through three coaches and nearly as many losses as wins, how can the Aggies expect to challenge in the SEC West?
Never mind a conference that’s collected the last six national titles, A&M is entering a division with defending champ Alabama, runner-up LSU and Arkansas. Check the first coaches’ poll. You’ll find those three. In the top 10.
“An athletic director has to manage expectations and define reality,” Hyman said. “Wherever we are (at A&M), and I haven’t made that assessment, it’s taken us a while to get where we are. And wherever we want to go, it’s going to take a while to get where we want to go. I know patience is not a great virtue in college athletics, but it’s got to be realistic.”
The AD’s job at A&M had been tainted by the awkward ouster of Byrne, the firing of football coach Mike Sherman and the belief that school president R. Bowen Loftin steered the Aggies into the SEC against the objections of many.
Loftin is viewed in some circles as the de facto athletic director. And while it’s true that all major decisions in college athletics these days need the president’s stamp of approval, the scene in College Station didn’t appear healthy. You heard the words “puppet” and “Byrne” together far too often.
Hyman didn’t relocate to College Station to get prodded or pulled on anyone’s string. After being approached by A&M about the job, Hyman called four people in the business that he trusts: “They all said it was a gold mine with unlimited potential.”
That potential was largely unrealized. It’s been pointed out plenty because it’s true, but the Aggies haven’t won a conference title since 1998. But they’re going to win now against these guys? Hyman is convinced of it.
“South Carolina was very much of a challenge when I first got here,” he said. “It always is, no matter what SEC school you’re at because of the nature of the competitiveness of the league. You can’t sit on your hands because everyone is going to go flying past you.”
South Carolina played for the SEC title in 2010. TCU, Hyman’s stop from 1998-2005, has become a true national power in football. Hyman presided over culture changes at both spots, instilling belief that both the Gamecocks and Horned Frogs could be great despite their recent pasts.
Hyman, though, sees a clear difference between those starting points at South Carolina and TCU, and where he’s at now.
“Those two programs had huge, huge challenges,” he said. “I don’t think Texas A&M is on that level.”
When it comes to fan base, financial support, facilities and recruiting potential, Hyman believes he’s got a head start in College Station. Personally, too. His sister and son-in-law are Aggies. His mother lives in San Antonio. His children are in Fort Worth, with a grandchild on the way.
“I’m coming back home,” Hyman said.
In his few meetings with new football coach Kevin Sumlin, Hyman has been impressed. Though their talks haven’t gone much beyond a few informal chats, Hyman knows a quality hire, even if he didn’t make it.
“You look at his track record and a huge issue is he has connections in recruiting in the state of Texas,” Hyman said. “My understanding is that so far they’ve had a terrific year in recruiting.”
The conference switch should be a benefit for Sumlin and the rest of A&M’s coaches. The SEC promises future riches that the Big 12, or any other conference, can’t touch when it comes to TV and media rights. Getting in front of eyeballs won’t be a problem for the Aggies.
“If you talk to a young person about playing college football and playing past college football, you talk about Texas A&M and you talk about the SEC. That gives you a distinctive edge,” Hyman said. “We have so much exposure in the SEC. People in the Northwest know more about Steve Spurrier than they do about the Seattle Seahawks.”
Parlaying that exposure and money into winning is just part of the equation. The SEC also has built-in pluses that the Big 12’s elite can’t match. Have the Aggies ever been in a better conference than Texas before? Of course not. They are now. Hyman intends to milk that till the cows off Highway 6 come home.
“You have a chance to play Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Florida, Georgia and all those schools,” he said. “Maybe some young players don’t want to do that. Well, then they’re not the right person you want.
“You want somebody who steps up to that kind of challenge. That’s the distinction that Texas A&M has that separates itself from all the other schools in Texas.”