The Big Mac Blog

Steve Patterson’s fate at Texas tied to two decisions

Former Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart has been hired by the University of Texas to replace Rick Barnes.
Former Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart has been hired by the University of Texas to replace Rick Barnes. AP

The tenure of Texas athletic director Steve Patterson will be decided in the next three years. The administration that hired Patterson to replace DeLoss Dodds as Bevo’s big boss did right by the man by allowing him the space and freedom to hire his guys.

He may have wanted someone else in the beginning, but Patterson had the freedom to hire Charlie Strong as the football head coach. It was not entirely popular by the power brokers in Austin, but it was Patterson’s hire.

Patterson had the type of room to replace Rick Barnes with Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, which he did on Thursday night. Since Patterson was hired, he replaced Mack Brown and Rick Barnes - the rest don’t matter, and he knows it. He almost flaunts that nothing else matters in college sports other than football and basketball.

Whether or not Patterson is a good guy to work with is not the issue; according to long time sports columnist John Canzano of The Oregonian, Patterson does not sound like a fun man to work under. The issue is whether Shaka Smart and Charlie Strong are good hires, which is entirely on the AD. It’s not on a search committee. It’s not on the many fat cat power brokers that have substantial influence in UT athletics. These are Patterson guys.

By all accounts, UT went old school with Patterson’s hiring of both Strong and Smart. They gave Patterson the keys, a check, and said, “Go hire a coach.” That’s the way these things used to be done, and still should be done. Maybe it was messy, but these moves are his and his alone.

UT could hire a donkey to be its director of athletics and it would still make money by the truck. The concern for UT is whether these respective head coaches can win the way a school that spends so much money on athletics should win.

Charlie Strong’s first season in Austin was a mostly uneven adventure that finished with a 6-7 record, and a blowout loss in the Whatever.Com Bowl to Arkansas. UT was 1-5 against teams ranked in the Top 25. He bought himself a year but kicking off everybody on this team, and the loss of veteran quarterback David Ash to a concussion left him with virtually nothing at that position.

If he can’t find a QB, in the Big 12, he’s dead. That’s on Strong. That’s on the man who hired Strong. The clock on blaming Mack Brown has expired.

On the court, Barnes proved a coach can recruit top, NBA talent to Texas. He proved he can keep some of the best players here in The Great State a Texas. He had players - T.J. Ford, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Durant, etc. The knock on Barnes was a coaching style that did not do enough with that talent.

In the college game, it only takes two or three players to make a difference. There is no Mack Brown clock for Shaka Smart.

If Smart can combine Barnes’ ability to land players - which in the college game is about 70 percent of coaching - and be better than his predecessor managing the game, UT will have a good basketball team. Since 2000, Texas has tied for the Big 12 regular season conference title twice (’06 and ‘08), despite having the type of talent required to win more than that.

Smart won big at a hard place to win, and was able to do so without major league talent. Winning big at a mid major is not like winning big at a major; he has to be able to coach, and recruit. No one knows if he can do that, but Patterson believes he can.

The bottom line is can these two individuals - Smart and Strong - combine the obvious advantages that Texas has to recruit the talent necessary with the ability to coach to make their players better and win big?

In this era, both guys have about three years, and Steve Patterson now has nowhere to hide.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof