Mac Engel

Del Conte changing Texas, and not coming after TCU ... yet

In a matter of months, it's apparent that Texas found the right person to be their next DeLoss Dodds and lead the giant, organized mess that is Bevo's athletic department.

The scales are different, but what former TCU AD Chris Del Conte is doing at Texas has countless similarities to his tenure in Fort Worth, from the sweeping construction plans for stadiums to handling the uncertainty surrounding his basketball coach. And possibly even his football coach.

The specter of a few more ish seasons in Austin from its two money sports has a lot of good people in Fort Worth fearing that the old boss will call his former TCU coaches and summon Gary Patterson and or Jamie Dixon to the state capital.

A lot of people within TCU's athletic department are optimistic that given Del Conte's relationship with the university, and current AD Jeremiah Donati, he will look out for his former school whenever college athletics goes through its next re-organization. What Texas wants, Texas gets.

However, most people are curious/fearful if a situation or two should change in Austin, Del Conte would not hesitate to try to hire the coaches who made him so successful at TCU.

Don't rule out the phone call, but do not conclude an exodus is a given. Patterson is 58, and king of the hill in Fort Worth. Dixon just signed an extension, and appears to have zero ambition for that job.

Football coach Tom Herman and basketball coach Shaka Smart are as yet not vulnerable, but this is UT where expensive decisions merely require a text, and why you can never dismiss such moves.

Despite the perception that Smart should be sweating his job because of his record, and the school's desire to build a new arena, Del Conte said one is not tied to the other.

"It's unfair to say that. The reality is Shaka took over a team from Rick Barnes and made the (NCAA Tournament), and then he lost six or seven guys from that team," Del Conte said Wednesday. Del Conte returned to his old neighborhood now wearing burnt orange as part of UT's annual trip for its high profile coaches to visit with alums and fans in separate events Dallas and Fort Worth.

"The next year they had pieces. The next year they went to the NCAA Tournament. They have a great recruiting class coming in and he lost a kid to cancer (diagnosis) during the season. Shaka did a yeoman's job. He's a hell of a coach.

"I firmly believe we are headed in the right direction in basketball."

Whereas Del Conte's tasks at TCU were dramatically different than the challenges he inherited/creates at UT, the issue is still the issue at UT: Filling up cavernous arenas/stadiums in Austin in an increasingly fractured entertainment market with teams that need to win more.

UT has not had a 10-win season since 2009, is riding a four-game losing streak to TCU, and a one-game losing streak to Kansas in Lawrence (sorry ... couldn't resist).

Herman is entering his second season, and as a result he's fine for another year or two after his first team finished a blah 7-6.

Smart, however, is three years in at Austin. His first team, with Barnes' players, was his best. The Horns have made two NCAA Tournaments in his tenure, but are 50-50 overall.

All basketball coaches in Texas enjoy a longer grace period because the interest level doesn't compare to football, but UT and Del Conte are currently working on a new on-campus arena that will affect Smart's timeline.

"It's going to be like the Dickey's Arena in Fort Worth, only it will be a joint venture with the city and the university," Del Conte said.

The venue's top priority will be entertainment, and specifically music acts. Nonetheless, UT is going to need some more pop from its basketball team when it moves into a new arena.

"I am not one to sit around. We are going to push the envelope and we are full-steam ahead," Del Conte said. "We are just rolling, and what we are doing with our arena for basketball will be different because it's with the city. I love where it's going. We have to win games, and we know that, too."

What Del Conte can control is creating an atmosphere at their respective games that people want to be a part of, and convincing wealthy people to invest in a respective university.

There are few better in college sports at doing just that.

He has announced plans to update portions of Darrel K. Royal Memorial Stadium, as well as new plans to make the game day experience in Austin for a UT football game more festive. Part of those plans is to close San Jacinto Drive around DKR to automobiles and turn it into a long avenue of partying.

Fans should also expect free concerts near the stadium on game days.

Del Conte calls it "R&D - Ripoff and Duplicate."

"You are creating a fan experience around the stadium and a reason to come. It's no different than Disney World," he said. "It's the same concept. We are asking people to spend discretionary income on a game at a university. The university game is a celebration of the university. The issue is, 'What are we going to change?'"

Right now the only thing CDC is changing are stadiums and arenas, so Fort Worthians and TCU faithful don't need to sweat.

If Bevo flops in football and basketball, don't assume an exodus of TCU's best coaches to Austin is a given, but don't rule it out.

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