SBJ/June 7 - 13, 2004/SBJ In Depth

SportsBusiness Journal National Athletic Director of the Year: Eric Hyman, Texas Christian University

Eric Hyman stands inside TCU’s baseball stadium, part of $35 million in sports facilities recently built at the university.

Eric Hyman remembers being turned away by prospectivecorporate sponsors when he first started as athleticdirector at Texas Christian University. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I knocked on doors and I got doors shut in my face.”

One memorable moment came during a sponsorship pitch to a marketing official at Bank One.

“The woman [there] said to me, ‘TCU is coming off a 1-10 football season and you’re trying to kindle some support?’” Hyman said. “She said, ‘When you’re 10-1, you come see me.’ So it was really discouraging at first. It was not easy.”

That pitch was made in the summer of 1998, Hyman’s first on the job, a time when TCU’s athletics facilities were in need of improvement and football, the program’s most visible sport, was struggling.

Much has changed in six years.

Athletics facilities improved dramatically under a $35 million, three-phase plan that called for construction of a soccer stadium, a track, football practice facilities, basketball practice facilities, a baseball stadium and a multipurpose center, which houses administrative offices, an academic learning center, football offices and meeting rooms.

Success is also happening on the field. TCU’s teams are consistently winning and making postseason conference and NCAA appearances.

And the good news goes well beyond that. Student athlete graduation rates, listed at 72 percent in the NCAA’s 2003 figures, up from 46 percent, are higher than the 64 percent for the overall TCU student body.

Corporate sponsorships are also up. In terms of revenue, sponsorships have grown about 120 percent. The number of sponsors has more than doubled from fewer than 50 partners to about 100 — including Bank One.

Put together, all of those reasons show why Hyman was selected as Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal’s 2004 Athletic Director of the Year.

“He has put the pieces in place in overseeing a real resurgence in the program top to bottom — competitively, academically, community service-wise, development-wise,” said Davis Babb, a TCU associate athletic director who has worked with Hyman on and off for the last 22 years. “What he’s done is elevated the stature of the program on a national level. We now have a tremendous amount of respect around the country. I think now people around the country know who TCU is. It wasn’t necessarily that way six years ago.”

TCU athletics were in transition when Hyman was hired. For many years the university’s chancellor and board of trustees “didn’t really want to make the investment that was required to keep up with the big kids on the block,” said William Koehler, TCU’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, who hired Hyman.

In the mid-1990s, after the fall of the Southwest Conference, of which TCU was a member, the vision for athletics began to change. By the time longtime AD Frank Windegger announced in August 1997 that he would retire by the following May, university officials had decided to try to assume a leadership position in athletics, Koehler said. They wanted Hyman to execute that plan.

At the time, Hyman was athletic director at Miami (Ohio) University, a job he had held for only two years and had no plans to leave. A headhunter and TCU officials persuaded him to at least take a look. “Basically, what they articulated to me was that they had the plan, they just needed someone to implement it — be the blocker and tackler — and they sold me on it,” said Hyman.

Hyman signed with TCU in December 1997. He had one task to complete before his official start date the following March — hire a football coach. He did so almost immediately, signing Dennis Franchione, who in his first season led the Frogs to a 7-5 record and a Sun Bowl win against the University of Southern California.

“That was the catalyst that turned the corner from a visibility standpoint,” Hyman said. “The Big Ten didn’t have a qualifier, so we jumped in, took advantage of it and we beat Southern Cal. You talk about turning people’s heads.”

The victory, combined with a master facilities plan developed with much input from Hyman that same year, brought people “out of the woodwork to support the program,” Hyman said. “We’ve now come to a point where they trust. They trust us and what we’re trying to do.”

Donations this year will be more than $8 million, compared with $1.8 million raised in the first year he was there, Hyman said.

With only 8,000 undergrads and a living alumni base of 50,000, TCU is tiny compared to state schools such as Texas and Texas A&M, which each have an undergraduate population about the size of TCU’s alumni base. TCU’s athletic department budget is relatively modest, about $20 million this year, though a far cry from the $6.1 million budget in place when Hyman joined the department. The university funds a sizable chunk of the department’s budget, but revenue generated by the department through sports such as football and basketball, as well as from corporate sponsorships, is increasing.

“What they’ve accomplished at TCU in this highly competitive environment is nothing short of a miracle,” said Todd Turner, one of Hyman’s mentors and close friends. Turner, the former AD at Vanderbilt, was athletic director at North Carolina State when he hired Hyman as his executive associate athletic director.

Hyman credits the department’s success to his staff and support from university administration. He places a premium on team effort. “When I hire people, I’m looking for teammates,” he said.

The management team Hyman has put into place includes a mix of longtime TCU employees and people he’s known and worked with through the years. In addition, Hyman has hired several coaches including two football head coaches, Franchione and then Gary Patterson; men’s basketball coach Neil Dougherty; and women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie.

To help foster the team mentality in his department, Hyman instituted a Teammate of the Month and Teammate of the Year program. The monthly award is given after a departmental vote, with the winner getting a dinner for four. A Teammate of the Year is selected from the monthly winners, and receives a $500 salary increase and a weekend getaway that includes two airline tickets to anywhere in the continental United States, a hotel room and a rental car.

“If you look at the management team, we’re void of egos,” said Jack Hesselbrock, an associate AD and longtime member of the TCU athletic department. “We defer credit mostly to the student athletes and to the coaching staffs. I can’t see anyone working under [Hyman] who’s a ‘me’ person.”

The team effort championed by Hyman has led to success in all areas.

“There’s been a consistency that we haven’t had in the past,” Hesselbrock said of TCU’s teams. He pointed out that TCU, which has typically fielded strong tennis and track programs, now is strong in football, with six consecutive bowl appearances; golf, which sent both its men’s and women’s teams to NCAA regionals this year; women’s basketball, which has been to four consecutive NCAA tourneys; and even volleyball, which last season had 20 wins for the first time.

Ensuring that student athletes leave TCU better than when they arrived is a primary goal for Hyman.

Hyman says when he hires someone for the department, he looks for teammates.
Coaches have to buy into it. Staff members have to buy into it. That experience goes beyond competition and into areas such as classroom performance and community involvement. Some programs launched and developed under Hyman include an etiquette dinner that is a mandatory annual event for juniors, and a student athlete exit interview that asks every senior to evaluate his or her experience at TCU. The interview ends with this:

“Knowing what you know now and having experienced what you have experienced here, would you choose to attend TCU if you were making the choice today? As a student? As an athlete? Why or why not?”

Beyond providing opportunities and experiences for student athletes, Hyman strives to be a role model for the students. “You set good examples by what you do, what you say and how you conduct your business,” Hyman said.

On the business side, there’s a constant drive to figure out how to do things better and more efficiently.

“One of his phrases is, ‘I’m always tinkering with things,’” Hesselbrock said. “And that’s true. He doesn’t sit still at the current success.”

The department conducts After Action Reports on everything, say members of the management team. During football season, for example, Hesselbrock said it’s not unusual for Hyman to say, “‘Jack, I want you to get together all the people who put on the game and let’s talk parking, concessions, game management, media relations, marketing and game time, and figure out what are some areas we can make better or make more efficient.’ He’s instituted a real critical, analytical eye in the way we go about things.”

Over the next two years, Hyman will oversee TCU’s transition from Conference USA to the Mountain West Conference, of which it will become a member in 2005. It’s the second conference move for TCU under Hyman. The program moved from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA in 2001 after eight WAC members broke off in 1999 to form the Mountain West.

Looking back, Hyman sees two more factors behind the accomplishments of the TCU athletic department: hard work and a little luck.

“You work hard and put yourself in a position where luck is a factor,” he said. “We were lucky. We backed into the Sun Bowl. But the issue was we wouldn’t have done it without the hard work to get us to that point in time. There’s a great work ethic here, and to a certain extent there’s been some luck that’s fallen our way.”

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