He knows how to hire a “Smart” coach: CHD interviews Texas AD Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson was named athletic director at Texas in 2013 and just had to make the biggest basketball coaching decision of his college career a few weeks ago. He was president of the Portland Trail Blazers from 2003-2007 during the time that the team acquired future All-Stars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, and also worked in Houston as both senior vice president of the Texans as well as general manager of the Rockets. After meeting Mr. Patterson at last winter’s NCAA annual convention, CHD’s Jon Teitel finally got to chat with him about running 1 of the top athletic departments in the nation and a variety of cutting-edge topics.


Your father Ray was GM of the Houston Rockets from 1972-1990: how much of an influence was he on your own decision to get into the world of sports, and what is your favorite memory of “Clutch City”? He had a large influence on my life in sports: I started working at age 10 or 11 answering phones when we did not even have any furniture! The best part was the way the city reacted to winning a championship: a lot of celebrations can become violent but our fans had a great time cheering on our team.

You were responsible for several draft-day decisions when you worked for Portland: what is the secret to evaluating the talent of college basketball players? You want to see someone who has the same sort of executive skills that other professional people have: hard work, a willingness to learn, etc. A player also needs to have physical skills, while the people drafting them have to project what they will look like in 5-7 years.

Back in the day you helped coordinate the arena naming rights deal between the Compaq Computer Corporation and the Rockets: what developments do you foresee in college basketball related to naming rights and/or sponsorship sales? I have said in the past that college athletics is under-leveraged due to the emotional attachment that exists for multi-generational alumni. You often meet your spouse in college and start your professional career after graduating, so a lot of people have great memories of their 4-5 year experience. As expenses continue to rise you will see the same kind of revenue generation that the have in professional sports.

You went to both college and law school at Texas: what did it mean to become AD of your alma mater a couple of years ago? It was not something I ever dreamed about prior to it happening. DeLoss Dodds was the AD when I was a student, and it was amazing that he was still here when I returned. Three of my siblings also went here and my kids are still in school here, so we are personally invested as a family.

Despite running an athletics department that is among a handful in the nation which gets no revenue from student fees or state sources, you have one of the highest annual operating expense totals in addition to one of the highest annual operating revenue totals: what do you spend all that revenue on, and how has the Longhorn Network helped create revenue since being launched in 2011? We spend every nickel that we take in to benefit our students and create the best game-day experience for our fans. We want to give our students the chance for positive results after they leave here, be it though coaches, trainers, books, fees, etc.

What do you think is the short-term and/or long-term impact of the recent changes to the Division One autonomy model? I think it is helpful for schools in our position and will help bring about changes that will benefit students who participate in athletics. I think it will create an environment where we can govern and make rule changes in a more expeditious fashion.

What will the impact be if the shot clock is reduced from 35 to 30 seconds? We will see: isn’t that part of the fun of it!?

How can you give the fans the seat they want at the price they want? We have changed some of our pricing during the past year so that you have to pay more to sit in so-called “beachfront property”, while we make the less-desirable seats more affordable for families to allow a broader cross-section of people attend our games.

Last month you fired Coach Rick Barnes even though he made the postseason during each of his 17 years with the Longhorns: how do you define “success” as it relates to the basketball program? We are about excellence and want to compete for conference and national championships on a consistent basis. The expectation for our 20 sports is to fund them at a level that is as competitive as anyone in the country.

Why did you pick Shaka Smart to replace Barnes, and how do you think “Havoc” will work in Austin? He is certainly one of the most well-respected up-and-coming young coaches in the country: lots of major programs wanted to hire him as their coach. He is interested in the entirety of our student-athletes as individuals both on and off the court. We think that once he gets established here he will have a lot of success.