The first time he lived in Austin, Steve Patterson followed a few high school friends from Wisconsin there.
Three years after Earl Campbell, one of Patterson’s favorite players, won the Heisman Trophy in 1977, Patterson graduated from UT with a bachelor’s degree in business and, four years after that, earned a law degree from Texas.
“From the minute I got here,” Patterson recalled, “I fell in love with the place.”
Now Patterson is returning to Texas as its men’s athletic director after spending the past two years as athletic director at Arizona State.
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“There has been a seat on the bus that’s been occupied by legends like Dana X. Bible, Darrell Royal and, of course, DeLoss Dodds,” UT President Bill Powers said. “We had the right person on the bus in DeLoss Dodds. We have the right person on the bus with [women’s athletic director] Chris Plonsky. And now we have the right person on the bus with Steve Patterson.”
Powers introduced Patterson at a news conference Thursday morning. Shortly after his hiring is approved by the UT Board of Regents, which meets next week, Patterson will replace Dodds, who has held the position for 32 years.
“These are big shoes to fill,” Patterson said. “Any time you follow a legend and probably the premier practitioner of his art, you have a little trepidation.”
Patterson has spent most of his career as a professional sports executive. He was the general manager of the Houston Rockets from 1989-93. He was the IHL Executive of the Year in 1995 as the Houston Aeros general manager before serving as the senior vice president of the Houston Texans from 1997-03 and as the president of the Portland Trail Blazers from 2003-2007.
Patterson will receive a five-year contract worth $1.4 million a year, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Patterson’s only experience as an athletic director has come in the last two years at Arizona State, but he convinced those at UT that his business acumen will serve him well in his new role. The Texas athletic department generated $166 million in 2012-13; Arizona State brought in $51 million.
“We all on the committee thought and had the sense that he’d be a good fit here,” said Pam Willeford, a former U.S. ambassador and past chairwoman of the Texas Higher Education Board, who was one of seven members on the advisory committee who interviewed Patterson. “We had two great candidates. There was just a little bit of experience there that we thought gave him the edge.… He has a great understanding of how the athletic department needs to be and should be part of the university at large and further the mission of the university.”
Patterson faces some tough decisions, specifically whether to retain the head coaches of the department’s three premier programs: football coach Mack Brown, men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes and baseball coach Augie Garrido.
Brown’s Longhorns have gone 22-16 the previous three seasons but are 5-0 in Big 12 play this year. Barnes’ squad is coming off its worst season during his tenure and Garrido’s team has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years.
“I don’t see this as other places where it can be a dramatic turnaround,” Patterson said. “I don’t anticipate monstrous changes in the department. I think we need to keep doing what we do well.”
Another thing that Patterson has going for him, of course, is that he is a Texas alum.
“I don’t think there’s anything about the University of Texas he doesn’t know,” Plonsky said. “When you’re a part of Texas at some point, you never leave. You’re a Longhorn for life.”
For Patterson, he’s just looking forward to being back in the place he grew so fond of decades earlier.
“It’s nice to be home,” Patterson said.