Relationship Between Athletic Director and Football Coach Vital to UT’s Success
By Stephen Cabler
When the University of Texas at Austin hired Chris Del Conte to be the school’s director of athletics in December 2017, the university’s once-storied football program had experienced almost a decade of mediocrity. Between 2010 and 2016 the team barely won more games than it lost. In the eight seasons prior to 2010, the team had won almost 90 percent of its games. Del Conte promised he would help steer the football program back to national prominence.
Athletic directors often like to be in charge of hiring coaches, but when Del Conte came on board, the university already had a football coach, Tom Herman, hired in November 2016. The situation — an athletic director inheriting a football coach at one of the country’s preeminent programs — can be tough for both the coach and athletic director, but Del Conte and Herman are making it work.
Del Conte, the former athletic director at Texas Christian University and Rice University, had a track record of building and maintaining high level athletic programs, but not at a university with the same level of pressure to succeed — from fans, donors and alumni — as Texas.
In a postgame press conference after losing to West Virginia University 42-41, a reporter asked Herman about the atmosphere surrounding the game, something that Del Conte has worked to improve.
“Yeah, all the credit goes to Chris and his staff, I mean, this is what college football is supposed to feel like at a blue-blood program with a stadium that holds 102,000 people,” Herman said. “Our crowd got louder and louder and louder, and that’s what — when two top-25 teams are playing and you’re at home, that’s what the atmosphere is supposed to feel like.”
Even though Texas lost to in-conference rival West Virginia, the Texas football team is experiencing its best season since 2009, when it won the Big XII conference title and lost to the University of Alabama in the national championship game.
This year, Texas lost its opening game to the University of Maryland but turned the season around quickly. The Horns went on to win six games in a row, including a win over archrival Oklahoma, and finished the regular season with nine wins. The team lost to Oklahoma in the Big XII Championship game on Dec. 1 and will play the University of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day.
UT, until recently, was the highest grossing athletic program in the country, averaging more than $180 million dollars annually from 2013 to 2017 and breaking the $214 million mark in the 2016-2017 year, according to the USA Today (UT athletic programs spent more $207 million of those revenues). The football program is the top driver of revenue, making an average of $133 million in revenue per year between 2014 and 2016, according to Forbes.
Herman’s 2016 contract with UT stipulates a base salary of $5.25 million and yearly raises of $250,000. Del Conte’s contract, signed in 2017, has a starting salary of $1.3 million and also includes raises.
“They generate so much money. When I say be Texas, it’s don’t ever be afraid to spend the money (and) don’t ever be afraid to let people know you have the money,” said Chad Hastings, a radio analyst who has covered UT football for almost a decade. “If you’re Texas, be Texas, and to me that’s what Chris Del Conte has really grabbed a hold of.”
Herman and Del Conte both worked at Rice University during the 2007-2008 season, Del Conte as athletic director and Herman as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Rice football team. The fact they had a positive relationship prior to joining forces at the pressure-cooker that is UT is a big positive, Hastings said.
“It’s a difficult job; there aren’t many programs in America that are exactly like Texas,” Hastings said. “The Chris Del Conte thing, I don’t think it can be overstated…he’s just walked in with this great personality and he’s connected with Tom.”
Craig Way, the radio play-by-play voice of the Longhorns, agrees.
“I think this was very valuable that the two knew each other from the time when Chris Del Conte was at Rice and Tom Herman was there as an assistant coach,” Way said.
So far the coworkers have been able to utilize each other’s skills to benefit the football program, and while the football team may not yet be good enough to compete for a national championship, things are coming together, Way said.
As Herman and Del Conte work to revitalize the football program, their relationship will continue to play a big role in its success, Hastings said.
“I have said for years on the talk show — be Texas, you’re Texas,” Hastings said. “Whether you want to call it the bully on the block or the biggest blue blood out there or whatever, be Texas. Chris Del Conte understands it now I think they’re being Texas in a better way than they have in a long time.”