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Volume 21 No. 27
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Del Conte said he was easily hooked on Longhorns


When the University of Texas offered its athletic director position to TCU’s Chris Del Conte, he knew he faced a difficult decision. Professionally, Del Conte had accomplished more than anyone could have imagined in nine years at TCU, building football and basketball venues and getting into the Big 12. But with two teenage daughters in high school and knowing the upheaval that would result from a job change, Del Conte deferred to them. He knew he had their blessing when he saw the girls shopping online for burnt orange dresses.

Del Conte’s mid-December leap from TCU to Texas became one of the biggest college stories of 2017. In just a few weeks at Texas, Del Conte has put more than 1,000 miles on his truck, visiting the school’s donors, coaches, athletes and other stakeholders, including former football coach Mack Brown and ex-AD DeLoss Dodds. “They’re an integral part of the DNA at Texas,” Del Conte said.

In the midst of those travels, Del Conte found time for a late December interview with SportsBusiness Journal college writer Michael Smith.

The new Texas AD has been busy making the rounds.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
On the realization that he’s the AD at Texas: It’s such a surreal moment. We were in New York at the CFP meetings when I got the call from President [Gregory] Fenves that he wanted to meet with me. I wasn’t expecting it to come down like this. On that Monday [Dec. 4], he was heading to the 21 Club for a Longhorn Club meeting and we stopped for drinks at Bob’s Chop House. I thought it was going to be a quick hello. From there, it escalated to, “Hey, we’ve got an opportunity at the University of Texas and I’d like you to be a part of it.” Next thing you know, we’re in a whirlwind tour, it was getting my family on board, talking to my wife, just the reality that we’re going to leave TCU, where we’d done so much. The challenge of going to Texas, which is the standard of college athletics and a brand that is world-renowned, I couldn’t pass it up.

On his one-on-one meeting with Fenves: That was part of what inspired me. That meeting was quiet, it was clean, there wasn’t a bunch of speculation. You think about it: The University of Texas has lost over 100 years of leadership in the last few years — Bill Powers [president], DeLoss Dodds [AD], Mack Brown [football coach], Augie Garrido [baseball coach], Rick Barnes [basketball coach]. Those are a lot of coaches and institutional knowledge that was lost. The rudder was drifting a little. … When President Fenves laid out his vision and his team, I was truly inspired. I couldn’t help but jump up and say, “Yeah, baby, let’s do this.”

On being approached about other AD jobs, and why Texas: We had said no a lot of times because the timing wasn’t right, whether we were in the middle of a project, just hired a new coach, it was just never right. But with this one, Texas is Texas.

Who do you turn to for professional advice? I go to former ADs I used to work with, mentors of mine like Jim Livengood. Peers of mine like Scott Stricklin, Greg Byrne, Bubba Cunningham, John Currie, Ross Bjork, Whit Babcock. We talk a lot and share a lot. But on this one, I didn’t talk to any of them. I didn’t talk to anybody but my wife and kids. I wasn’t trying to leverage anybody else. We were really quiet. My friends didn’t even know.

On his family’s role in the decision: My daughter is a junior in high school and she left me a message the next morning: “Life is all about taking risks. If you don’t take a risk, you’ll never achieve your dreams.” That was pretty profound for a 16-year-old.

Is there a 100-day plan? You don’t come in and think that you’re Johnny Law. Come in and make an assessment. I’ve sent out a SWOT analysis [strengths, weaknesses opportunities, threats] to all 429 of our employees. What are our strengths, what are our threats, who do they go to when they have problems, tell me about yourself, all that.

On being AD at Texas, a premier collegiate brand, and how that changes the job: Oh, are you kidding me? So much so. You’ve gone from the hunter to the hunted. That’s the challenge. You know every single day that burnt orange walks on any field, they’re the hunted against anybody. That’s why anybody chooses to come to the University of Texas. They know everybody is looking at them, and that’s the ultimate challenge.