By longevity and reputation, collectively and individually, the three most powerful coaches at TCU — Gary Patterson, Jamie Dixon and Jim Schlossnagle — carry more weight than their new athletic director, Jeremiah Donati.
He can live with that.
Donati said Monday after his introductory press conference that he needs to learn as much as possible from Patterson, in his 20th year at TCU and 17th as head football coach; Dixon, in his second year at TCU and one of the nation’s winningest active basketball coaches; and Schlossnagle, baseball coach since 2003 whose teams have reached the College World Series five times in the past eight seasons.
“I may be their boss technically, but I don’t see it that way,” said Donati, an athletic director for the first time. “My job is to serve them, and if I do that, they’ll be successful and they’ll be happy.”
One of the last acts by former AD Chris Del Conte was to sign Patterson to a new six-year contract that takes him through the 2023 football season. He is the school’s winningest football coach, with six conference championships in three leagues with the Horned Frogs and total compensation over $5 million.
Dixon, in just his second season in Fort Worth, already has the Frogs at No. 14 in the AP Top 25, one spot shy of their all-time highest ranking. Brought to TCU by Del Conte, Dixon left Pitt with the school’s best winning percentage and second-most wins. He was making more than $3 million with incentives at Pitt.
Schlossnagle signed a contract extension in 2016 after a third consecutive CWS appearance. TCU’s most recent tax filing showed Schlossnagle approaching the $1 million salary club in college baseball, a rarity. Two years ago, he became TCU’s all-time leader in wins as a baseball coach.
The dynamic in the relationship between the three coaches and the new athletic director is clear. If any or all did not sign off on the move, it’s likely Donati would not be in his new position.
“All three were very supportive of me being the next athletic director,” said Donati, a 40-year-old Washingtonian who came to TCU in 2011 to work with the Frog Club and wound up as deputy athletic director by 2016.
Asked if he believed he needed to “re-recruit” his top three coaches, who have been in demand in the past and will be again, Donati replied, “Absolutely.”
“We’ve spoken on the phone, I’ve met with them, but we’re going to get a chance when the dust settles to really sit down and kind of go over their program from A to Z, and where they are, and where they’re headed, and what I can do to support that,” he said.
Donati said Patterson called him from the recruiting trail Sunday, the day Donati accepted the promotion, with friendly advice.
“He said, try to get some sleep tonight because this might be the last good night of sleep you get for a long time,” Donati said. “And I reminded him that I’ve got a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old at home. So he got a good laugh out of that.”
Dixon said he and Donati have been “working hand in hand” since last year, when Donati served as his primary contact with the athletic administration. Dixon, who said he had multiple athletic directors in his time at Pitt, appreciated the speed with which TCU identified its candidate and made the move.
“We had a guy in place to become an athletic director, so they acted upon it,” he said. “I’m just excited about how we moved on it. There was no question. It was like, this guy was the guy we had in mind. They were grooming him to be an athletic director. This maybe happened a little bit quicker than people thought, but that’s usually what happens to the good ones.”
Schlossnagle was impressed enough by Donati in five years that he recommended him for the Houston athletic director position that came open two weeks ago when Hunter Yurachek went to Arkansas. Houston announced the hiring of Cal assistant AD and Houston alum Chris Pezman on Monday.
“I didn’t know that he was the AD in waiting. I knew he was an AD in waiting,” Schlossnagle said, relating how he texted UH baseball coach Todd Whitting to push Donati. “I said, you need to get this guy. I’m glad they didn’t make a run at him because now he’s our athletic director.”
Schlossnagle said he and other TCU coaches were asked their opinion of Donati as the new AD.
“We were 100 percent across the board excited for that,” Schlossnagle said. “No one ever asked for other names. Everybody knew what the logical decision was. As a coach, your job is to evaluate talent and potential. From the day he walked on campus, you could see he had greatness ahead of him.”