They had to see this one coming – long before a plane filled with University of Texas officials swooped into Tempe on Sunday and scooped up the Arizona State athletic director.
Even before Steve Patterson publicly denied weeks ago that he was interested in the Texas AD job.
Back at the end of August, when DeLoss Dodds announced he was ready to retire from the Texas position after 32 years building it into the biggest and best-financed in the country, ASU President Michael Crow should have handed Patterson a plane ticket to the Fiji Islands and told him to come back after Texas found a new AD. Instead, he gave his Vice President for Athletics permission to talk with the Longhorn search committee.
So in flew the Texas delegation on Sunday to spend most of the day with Patterson…and 48 hours later offered him the job.
And…poof! Arizona State loses its third AD in recent years to a high-profile job at another major-college program. Kevin White left for Notre Dame in 2000 and Gene Smith was snatched up by Ohio State in 2005.
While Crow claims he didn’t really believe it would happen until the day before Texas officially offered Patterson the job, it’s hard to imagine that Patterson would have turned down the offer – despite his profession that he was more interested in finishing the job he started at Arizona State.
Patterson, 55, was hired by ASU three years ago as the school’s COO, charged with developing the business side of Sun Devil athletics and begin a much-need major fund-raising effort. He was touted at the time as a visionary with a keen business mind and track record for getting things done. He enjoyed success in both the NBA and NFL and had a major role in bringing the Super Bowl to Houston.
Two years ago he moved into the vacated role of athletic director when Lisa Love was let go in March of 2012, and the job title was changed to Vice President for Athletics.
But look at this from Patterson’s side of the table. He had an opportunity to double his salary ($1.4 million is the reported offer from Texas). He takes over a tradition-rich program that has the largest collegiate athletics budget in the nation. And he’s an alum who graduated as a Longhorn and then attended law school there.
He leaves a program that is short on money and resources and requires devoting a lot of time to fund-raising, as ASU continues working toward an ambitious goal of $100 million in revenue. He inherits a program that brings in close to $170 million annually – and his duties will not include an emphasis on fund-raising, as it does in Tempe.
To its credit, ASU made an effort to keep him happy, from a financial standpoint. His contract was recently extended through June of 2018 and his annual salary increased from $365,000 to $450,000.
But that’s still a country mile from $1.4 million, which is actually $300,000 more that Dodds was making.
Now that he’s officially a Longhorn, the attention turns internally at ASU. One of the things that needs to be addressed is whether there will be any additional attrition as a result of Patterson’s move. Crow says that, according to a written agreement with Patterson, the former AD can’t hire anyone away from ASU. But how binding is that going to be on a guy that walked out on his own contract?
The biggest concern in this regard would be the football coach, Todd Graham. Patterson was instrumental in getting Graham to leave Pittsburgh after just one season and come to Tempe two years ago. The two have formed a pretty solid friendship and Graham has referred to them as a “great team.” The Texas football coach, Mack Brown, has been on the hot seat the last couple of seasons and could be one of the casualties of Patterson’s house-cleaning that is expected to take place after he assumes the responsibilities on Dec. 7.
But right now, the focus is on finding yet another AD to step into Patterson’s big shoes.
When the other coaches were asked for their input on the Patterson departure, women’s basketball head coach Charli Turner Thorne struck an optimistic tone.
“He really did do a lot for us,” she admitted. “There’s always an ebb and flow with athletics. Michael (Crow) cares a lot about athletics and knows how important it is to our institution.
“Everybody feels confident he’ll go out and get us another great AD.”