The stories of DeLoss Dodds
|Dodds relished his role as a mentor and leader, continually trying to put student athletes first.
Dodds gets his way
On an October night last fall, hundreds of DeLoss Dodds’ friends and admirers gathered at The W Hotel in Austin to toast and roast the retired athletic director. Family members, fellow Big 12 ADs, former athletes, Texas boosters and coaches took turns praising Dodds for his 32 years as the Longhorns’ AD and telling stories, like the one about giving former Texas football coach Mack Brown an unlimited budget, which Brown still managed to exceed.
Brown, now an ESPN analyst, emceed the festivities and knew just how Dodds, the quintessential behind-the-scenes administrator, felt about the evening. “Oh, he was miserable with all that attention,” Brown said.
At the end of the evening, Texas presented Dodds with a street sign that reads DeLoss Dodds Way — the new name of the street that goes by the north end of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and serves as the primary entrance for the athletic department offices.
Brown had a little fun with it, saying the street should be DeLoss Dodds Tollway because “he’s so tight with budgets, he’d find a way to make money off it.”
Sometime later, Kenny Jastrow, a longtime friend of Dodds’ and a Texas distinguished alumnus, joked, “DeLoss Dodds Way? DeLoss has been getting his way for 32 years.”
Dodds era flies off course
Every day wasn’t a walk in the park for Dodds, who took over a Texas program in 1981 that was far from the financial juggernaut it is now.
In the 1990s, with the football program struggling under then-coach John Mackovic, several rogue boosters took matters into their own hands by renting a plane that flew over the stadium on game day with a sign: “Dump DeLoss and Flush the John.”
Dodds and his family were in the stadium that day trying to focus on the game and not the plane. “Our whole family was gritting our teeth, not saying anything,” said Doug Dodds, DeLoss’ son.
DeLoss couldn’t help but notice his grandson, Steffan, 10, watching the plane go around the stadium. So DeLoss put his arm around Steffan and told him about the two types of people in the world — those who rally around you and act supportive during tough times, and those who choose to tear you down.
“Someday, Stef, you’ll have to choose what kind of person you want to be.”
Steffan thought for a moment and responded: “I want to be the guy who gets to fly the airplane.”
Ohio State’s Gene Smith has established himself as one of the most influential and elite athletic directors nationally, but there was a time in the early ’90s when Smith was frustrated with the profession.
After seven years as the AD at Eastern Michigan, Smith reached a point where he had done all he could do. He interviewed for several higher-level AD jobs, but he wasn’t climbing the ladder like he thought he should. Finally, he determined that he was being used as the token minority interview.
Smith had met Dodds through industry events and the Texas AD became a source of encouragement.
“He was a mentor for me,” Smith said. “I admired the way he operated, his demeanor. I tried to model a lot of the things I did by watching how he dealt with issues. … His main message to me was to keep interviewing. ‘Somewhere along the way, somebody will hire you.’ And he was right.”
Smith went on to land jobs at Iowa State and Arizona State before Ohio State.
This kick brought to you by
Dodds could be a bit resistant to ideas that exploited the commercial side of athletics. Even though the Longhorns made more annual revenue than any other program in the nation, Dodds treaded carefully when it came to sponsor promotions.
The first time Texas ran a halftime promotion, American Airlines sponsored a field-goal kick to win free airline tickets.
Dodds was perched on the photo deck high above the football stadium when the promotion began.
“People are going to boo,” Dodds told Scott Willingham, the longtime general manager for Longhorn IMG Sports Marketing.
Willingham took a deep breath and watched as the contestant made the field goal and the fans roared their approval. Dodds patted Willingham on the rear, turned and walked off without a word.
‘Best AD in the country’
Dodds oversaw the last athletic department in the country that was split into separate men’s and women’s divisions. Dodds had oversight for the whole enterprise, while Chris Plonsky remains the women’s athletic director and handles the marketing for both sides.
Dodds’ friends say that whenever he introduced Plonsky, he called her “the best athletic director in the country,” Jastrow said. “Not the best women’s athletic director in the country — the best athletic director.”
Before AD, Dodds was a coach
Dodds was at Texas so long that many people forget that he was an accomplished track coach at Kansas State, his alma mater, for 13 seasons. In fact, his teams won six Big Eight championships, and two school records remarkably still stand more than 40 years after Dodds’ stint at K-State from 1963 to 1976.
One of his athletes was miler Jeff Schemmel, who went on to become AD at San Diego State and now runs a college sports consulting agency, College Sports Solutions.
Schemmel said the final team meeting before a competition was when Dodds would pull out his bag of motivational tricks. He’d go around the room in that calm, dry delivery, asking athletes how many points they could pull in their event.
“Schemmel, how many points can you get in the mile?” Dodds would ask.
“I’d jump out of my chair and say, ‘10, Coach, I’m going to win the race,’” Schemmel would say.
Dodds then turned to the chalkboard — remember, it’s the 1970s — and wrote a 6, the points for a third-place finish.
“By the time we went around the room, we were all ready to run through the wall and he had done it without ever raising his voice,” Schemmel said.
Dodds, the businessman
For a guy who majored in physical education and simply wanted to coach high school track, Dodds evolved into an AD who understood the business side of athletics better than anyone, despite a lack of formal training.
Some of his friends shared their thoughts on that:
“He talked to the TV executives and really nurtured those relationships, just like he nurtured relationships with coaches and boosters, so he knew more than most ADs about the direction of media. The Longhorn Network was a testimony to everything DeLoss built.” — Chip Brown, longtime editor of Orangebloods.com
“I pitched DeLoss the idea of doing a game on pay-per-view, in the days before every game was on TV, and I proposed a 50-50 split. He said, ‘Let me get this right: we’re providing the stadium, the football team, the cheerleaders and the band, and you want a 50-50 split?’” — Scott Willingham, general manager of Longhorn IMG Sports Marketing
“I think it’s because he was a former athlete and a former coach. He understood college athletics and he knew how to expand the enterprise, the business, the branding.” — TCU AD Chris Del Conte
“He’s patient. He had this ability to sit back and listen to all the opinions, and then summarize it with a solution. That has been a talent he has used through the years.” — former Big Eight and Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas
“The longer you’re around DeLoss, you notice he never talks over you. He always listens.” — Texas booster and friend Kenny Jastrow