DeLoss Dodds, the Texas athletic director who built the program into a Goliath of college sports in terms of wealth, power and prestige, said Tuesday he is ready to retire and leave the Longhorns — and some potentially tough coaching decisions — in someone else’s hands after three decades at the helm.
Dodds, 76, has led the Texas program since 1981 when he took a job that oversaw an athletic department budget of about $4 million. He will leave it Aug. 31, 2014, with an annual budget of nearly $170 million, upgraded and expanded facilities, and its own television network.
“This is a big day for me. I’ve thought a lot about it,” Dodds said at a campus news conference with university President Bill Powers. “In 62 years, it will be the first time I haven’t had a job … That’s long enough to work … We’ve had a great run.”
Dodds will move into a paid consulting role after he steps down as AD. Powers said a search for Dodds’ replacement will begin immediately and the new boss could step into the job as soon as they are hired, with Dodds helping with the transition.
“We do not need somebody in a week,” Powers said. “We can be thoughtful.”
Instead of just a long goodbye for an administrator who wielded influence over not just Texas but over entire conferences, Dodds’ departure intensifies speculation over football coach Mack Brown’s future with the Longhorns.
Dodds and Powers have been Brown’s strongest allies against a restless fans base frustrated by three sub-par seasons and a 2-2 start in 2013. Brown, who has been at Texas since 1997 and won the 2005 national championship, has often noted their support and Tuesday’s announcement means a key piece of that foundation is leaving.
Brown is under contract until 2020 and has said he wants to keep coaching. He will be paid about $5.4 million this year with annual raises in his contract. Brown was at practice Tuesday and did not attend the news conference.
Dodds deflected questions about potential coaching changes, saying his replacement should be involved in such decisions.
“I’m not going to go there,” Dodds said. “That’s an answer that will work itself out over the next several weeks. Anything this department does significantly needs to have the hands of the new person.”
Dodds is under contract at Texas through 2015 at $700,000 per year with a $1 million annuity if he’s employed at the end of August 2014.
Dodds came to Texas from Kansas State in 1981 presided over an expanding Texas empire at a time the business side of college sports was rapidly expanding. During his tenure, the Texas men’s program has won 14 national championships and 108 conference titles, most notably the football national championship, the school’s first outright football title since 1969.
Dodds oversaw creation of the Longhorn Foundation, which pulled all the fundraising efforts for individual sports under one roof, and donors poured money into the athletic program. Over the past 20 years, Texas has spent $400 million on facilities as it grew into a massive, money-generating machine with the largest athletic budget in the country.
Dodds also shepherded the school’s move from the old Southwest Conference into the Big 12, and the school’s’ 20-year, $300 million partnership with ESPN for the Longhorn Network, a 24-hour channel dedicated to Longhorns sports.
The network, seen as a pioneering effort when first announced, proved to be a wedge between Texas and several Big 12 schools, some of whom eventually left the league. The network struggled to gain major distribution until finally signing a deal to be broadcast to Time Warner customers in Texas.
Dodds also navigated two rounds of conference upheaval in recent years. In 2010, Texas flirted with joining the Pac-12 before deciding to stay in the Big 12. When another round of conference moves again threatened the stability of the Big 12 in 2011, Texas helped stabilize the conference as a 10-team league.
Powers called Dodds a visionary and “one of the giants in college athletics” who commanded the respect of university presidents, coaches and league commissioners.
Still, the athletic program is in a bit of turmoil.
Galvanized by the hiring of Brown in 1997, the football team had a dominant run from 2000-2009 when the Longhorns went 69-9, won two Big 12 titles and twice played for the national championship. The program has slipped in recent years with a 24-18 record, including a 12-10 home record, since 2010.
The men’s basketball and baseball programs have declined as well. Basketball had its first losing season in 15 years under coach Rick Barnes last season, and the baseball team, once a perennial power, missed the NCAA postseason the last two years.
Earlier this month, a Texas regent said he and a prominent former regent spoke in January with Alabama coach Nick Saban’s agent in an attempt to lure Saban to Texas if Brown retired.
Dodds said he’d have made the same decision to retire whether the football team was 4-0 or 0-4. He said it was time to spend more time with his wife and family.
“We need to go to Tuscany, need to see the leaves turn in the north,” Dodds said. “There’s a lot of life we need to live that we haven’t lived because we’ve worked.”
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