Del Conte moves from TCU to athletic director at Texas
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Chris Del Conte once parked himself outside the office of the Texas athletic director to make a personal plea to the Big 12’s most powerful member to get TCU into the league.
Over several hours and drinks, Del Conte poured himself and TCU out to then-Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds.
”I do not remember much of that conversation,” Del Conte said Monday, ”except the next day I needed two aspirin.”
Dodds didn’t get all the details – he thought Del Conte’s first name was Del – but got enough to be impressed. TCU got in and the Horned Frogs quickly bloomed into a Big 12 heavyweight in football and baseball, and a rising power in other sports.
It was Del Conte’s power of persuasion and his leadership in turning a small private school into a Big 12 contender that led Texas to him this time, to bring him back to Austin to be the athletic director.
Texas President Greg Fenves first met Del Conte through Big 12 leadership meetings. Although athletic director Mike Perrin still had nearly another year left on his employment agreement, Fenves decided to move quickly to lure Del Conte to Texas. They finalized the move last week at meeting in a New York City steak house, the deal was done Saturday and Del Conte was introduced to the Longhorns at a news conference Monday.
”What he has done at TCU, to take that program to new heights, to heights that were unimagined when he began at TCU,” Fenves said. ”Chris has the vision for how important athletics is for a great university.”
Del Conte spoke like Texas was the dream destination for any athletic director. It has one of the wealthiest and largest athletic departments in the country, a massive, passionate alumni base that spreads from coast to coast, and an internationally recognizable brand.
It also a place that has struggled through losing football, unrest in the fan base and an unsettled administration in recent years. Del Conte will be Texas’ fourth athletic director since 2013.
”The standard of college athletics starts here,” Del Conte said. ”When (Fenves) said, `I want to talk to you about this position,’ I was floored … We have one rodeo. My thought was, `If I’m ever going to do it, why not now? Why not at the University of Texas?’ It is like riding a bull. Eight seconds, hang on, let’s see what we can do. Awesome.”
Del Conte’s seven-year contract has a salary that starts at $1.3 million annually and must still be approved by university regents, who will be expecting stability and results. Dodds’ successor, Steve Patterson, was fired after less than two years of clashes with fans, coaches and administrators.
Perrin, a former Texas football player, was brought in to calm the unrest but was always viewed as a placeholder until a permanent hire could be found. Perrin will stay on as an adviser to Del Conte.
”Mike stepped up to serve this university,” Fenves said. ”There was a lot of turbulence and a lot of problems within the athletic department, with our fans, our loyal fans, and Longhorn Nation.”
In Del Conte, Texas gets an experienced leader who is a familiar and respected name across the Big 12.
He takes over a program starved for success in football. Former coach Charlie Strong, who was hired by Patterson, was fired after three consecutive losing seasons. First-year coach Tom Herman is 6-6 and needs a bowl win over Missouri to avoid another one.
The men’s basketball team finished last in the Big 12 last season but the school remains confident in third-year coach Shaka Smart and the Longhorns are off to a 6-2 start. Baseball was resurgent under coach David Pierce last season, and women’s basketball and volleyball rank among the best programs in the country.
Del Conte will lead new efforts to build an on-campus basketball arena to replace the 40-year-old Frank Erwin Center. At TCU, he oversaw massive renovations to football and basketball facilities.
Del Conte will have the title of vice president and director of athletics and will oversee both the men’s and women’s athletic departments. Texas had been the last major university with separate men’s and women’s departments and women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky will now answer to him.
”Chris Plonsky is a star. We’re going to have the relationship of working together,” Del Conte said.
Plonsky attended Del Conte’s news conference and called Del Conte ”a perfect hire.”
”Chris is one of the most beloved and respected individuals in our industry,” Plonsky said.
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