Jeremiah Donati describes himself as a people person, but he wasn’t sure what to think about so many people showing up to hear his first words as TCU’s new athletic director.
In other words, he was nervous.
“Wow. Let me take a moment to soak all this in,” he told a gathering of 200 staff, coaches, athletes and reporters Monday at the Four Sevens Team Room at TCU, where Chancellor Victor Boschini announced the promotion. “I’ve dreamt about this day for a long time.”
Donati, deputy athletic director since 2016, succeeds Chris Del Conte, who was introduced as the athletic director at Texas hours earlier. TCU did not provide salary or contract information. Del Conte was being paid about $700,000 per year, according to a USA Today database.
“I expected to be more nervous,” Donati said. “Because once I saw everybody, it felt like I walked into a big family reunion almost. It really calmed me down. I was more nervous the hour leading up to it. When I saw some smiling faces, saw my daughters, it made it a little easier.”
Donati, 40, is a Newport Beach, Calif., native who began his career as an agent and lawyer at Leigh Steinberg’s sports agency. He holds a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from the University of Puget Sound and a juris doctor degree from Whittier Law School.
He held fundraising positions at Arizona, Washington State and Cal Poly before coming to TCU in 2011 to work with the Frog Club, eventually becoming executive director. In 2013, in a promotion to associate athletic director and associate vice chancellor for athletic development, one of his primary responsibilities was working with the men’s basketball program, which coincided with the renovation of Schollmaier Arena and subsequent recruitment and hiring of Jamie Dixon.
Last year, in a promotion to deputy athletic director, he took a more direct role in the effort to bring a club and suites to the east side of Amon G. Carter Stadium.
“That’s a project that goes beyond TCU football,” he said, describing it as his top priority. He said he was reminded of the weight of his new responsibilities in a Monday morning phone call with Del Conte.
“All of a sudden the pressure to finish that stadium is 100 percent on my shoulders, whereas the other projects I was involved with fell on his shoulders,” Donati said. “So that’s going to be the biggest thing — the buck’s going to stop with me. But I grew up in the Frog Club, so to speak, so they know how I work. Tomorrow it’s going to be business as usual.”
Del Conte often referred to himself as a servant at TCU. Donati used the same wording to describe his new job.
“It’s a service-first model. It’s a service-first mindset,” he said. “Because I’m serving student athletes, I’m serving coaches, I’m serving staff, I’m serving this community. I need to be very mindful of what those expectations are and not only manage them but meet them.”
Donati, married with 3- and 1-year-old daughters, remembered personal doubts about his decision to come to Texas in 2011, because his father died at nearly the same time.
In his remarks to the audience, Donati said he thought about going back home to California.
“Then the most amazing thing happened,” he said. “Total strangers, people I didn’t know — people who are in this room today — they literally and figuratively reached out, put their arms around me and helped me get through it and encouraged me and told me to keep going. Got me through some tough times and some dark days. Kept me here and kept me motivated. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Monday, he walked in as their leader. Ready to serve.
“I’ve been asked a lot over the past 24 hours what’s the first thing I’m going to do,” he said. “The answer is I’m going to listen. I’m going to listen to our student-athletes, to our staff, to our donors. We’re going to figure out what we can do to keep providing resources to make them successful. It’s not about me, it’s not about our staff. It’s about these kids that we serve, over 500 of them.”