The now-problematic but still incredible legacy of DeLoss Dodds

Erich Schlegel

The last several years have considerably changed the perception of the longtime Texas athletic director.

Tuesday marked beginning of the end of an era for the Texas Longhorns athletic department, as athletic director DeLoss Dodds announced his retirement in an emotional press conference with president Bill Powers.

Not the absolute end of an era, as Dodds isn't stepping down immediately and because his legacy has another important chapter not yet written, but that legacy is one without peers in substantive ways.

In the 32 years since DeLoss Dodds took over as the Texas athletic director in the fall of 1981, the landscape of college sports has changed dramatically.

In the 32 years since DeLoss Dodds took over as the Texas Longhorns athletic director, the landscape of Texas sports has changed dramatically, as Texas, Inc. has become the most profitable entity in college athletics, one valued at the start of 2013 at $761.7 million, with Dodds helping to finance a transformation of the school's athletic facilities.

Not bad for a Riley, Kansas native who lost his father to cancer at the age of eight and saw his mother somehow send he and his four siblings to college, aided by the small-town community that made sure to take care of its own, something that has perhaps defined Dodds and his career as much as his great successes.

For former Oklahoma and Big 12 administrator Donnie Duncan, a longtime friend of Dodds, his rural Midwestern roots give him a steadfastness to his nature that hasn't wavered over time:

He's still the same guy, every day. You can tell he carries the values he grew up with and he's the type of guy who doesn't forget where he came from or who he is. He doesn't play games and that really makes DeLoss a strong leader.

Over time, it's allowed Dodds to develop a reputation as a straight-shooter in a business that involves no small amount of political maneuvering. The managing director of IMG, Tom Stultz, put it into perspective:

DeLoss has this uncanny ability to cut all of the B.S. and get right to the point. It's almost a game to see when DeLoss is going to do it, but at some point he's going to lean over and ask you a very direct question that gets right to the heart of the matter. It's his way of saying, ‘Hey, shoot straight with me.'

The leadership acumen is apparent from Dodds' resume, grown at Texas after he graduated from Kansas State and went on to become the athletic director for the Wildcats, turning a department that lost money into a profitable unit in several short years. Sound like a familiar blueprint?

Having overseen the development of the Longhorn Network, which will bring the university $300 million over 20 years, $400 million in renovations and construction of facilities, including the north end zone at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium, renovations of Disch-Falk field, the construction of the track facility and practice facilities for basketball and football, eight consecutive years of leading all Collegiate Licensing royalties, and the first-ever season of more than $100 million in football revenue, the highs of Dodds' tenure at Texas reach into the stratosphere.

Dodds helped Texas pull through the dissolution of the SWC and the creation of the Big 12 conference before playing a pivotal role in the conference realignment saga that spanned three years, opting to avoid the massive realignment a move to the Pac-12 would have triggered and that would have left schools like Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State and possibly Kansas by the wayside.

More than the purely business side of making money and helping the Longhorns stay ahead in the facilities arm race, Dodds has presided over a winner, shepherding programs that have won 14 national titles and 108 conference titles under his watch.

At some point in the near future, there may be a bronze statue of Dodds somewhere near the football stadium. And it would be well deserved for his efforts in building Texas, Inc.

The tide of success rode high in the 2000s, as the baseball team took up residence in Omaha every summer, bringing home titles in 2002 and 2005, the basketball team made an unprecedented Final Four run in 2003, along with several other Elite Eight appearances, and football, the school's flagship program that had laid in disrepair for so long, brought a national championship and two BCS bowl wins back to Austin during the heady if imperfect stretch that included the national championship appearance after the 2009 season.

Then, all of a sudden, just when it appeared that Texas was entering a golden age of athletic achievement in the three major sports, everything fell apart -- unfortunately for Dodds and his legacy, his final years have clouded it substantially.

Where once he could say proudly and perhaps with more than a bit of the arrogance that came to define Texas athletics during the high times, "We are the Joneses," those words now ring hollowly, falsely.

Those words are now uttered by Texas fans in the past tense with traces of bitterness and nostalgia, more or less of each according to the speaker's sensibilities.

"We were the Joneses."

The complacency and subsequent rot in Mack Brown-Texas Football began to tell and the great purge of 2010 wasn't enough to fix a broken culture as loss after loss piled up that deserved mention among the worst of Brown's tenure, despite ever-present promises of improvement.

Pulled down by the inability of Rick Barnes to recruit the state of Texas and identify with his players, the basketball program cratered, torn apart by early defections, transfers, and teams ridden hard and long by Barnes until nothing remained but broken groups no longer capable of finding the beauty in the fluid, poetic game of basketball.

Hurt by pop-less bats and unable to find offense while hamstrung by Augie ball, the baseball team missed the Big 12 tournament in 2013, the capstone in a recent trend of failure.

Two of Dodds' most crowning achievements, rocks of his legacy -- the Longhorn Network and the continued existence of the Big 12 -- have been rather ground into dust recently under the advancing glacier of fan sentiment moving steadily against him. Many fans frustrated by the lack of carriage agreements for the school's flagship network have begun to see its creation as yet another greedy, money grab by an athletic department obsessed with the bottom line more than winning. Have eyed the success of Texas A&M in the SEC with jealousy as the eyes of the nation continue to turn towards the country's most successful conference and recruits flock to play on the biggest stages and win national championships.

And then there's the Bev Kearney lawsuit. The former women's track and field coach will likely have the opportunity to file her discrimination lawsuit against the school if the EEOC gives her the right to sue within the next several weeks as rumors continue to swirl that the case could bring down several prominent members of the Texas athletic department and expose the same type of endemic rot that has come to define the football program. This rot, however, would not be one of complacency, but the lurid rot of good ol' boys looking away from sexual misconduct of the type already exposed in the cases of Cleve Bryant and, to a lesser extent, Major Applewhite.

More than the type of on-field failures for which there are no excuses given the massive resources that Dodds himself helped to accrue, the stain of the Kearney lawsuit has the potential to haunt and diminish his legacy, especially if the worst of the rumors end up being true.

Even in the best-case scenario, it's a dark spot on the resume of a man known for his integrity, dignity and forthrightness, qualities that have allowed him to navigate the difficult waters of a university where some big and hugely expensive boats sit in the harbor -- there's no vacuum in which the big decisions are made at a place like Texas.

The confluence of those aforementioned events -- the lack of success across the major sports, the revisionist history with realignment and the Longhorn Network, the looming specter of the Kearney lawsuit -- all diminish a legacy that was otherwise so rarely impeached just months ago, when the most compelling accusation against Dodds was that he represented the arrogance and successful excess of Texas, Inc. And that only particularly compelling for trolls, rivals and, until relatively recently, the most shrill members of the Longhorn fanbase.

Of course, there are also criticisms about some of his early hires, but Dodds got the final big three so right for so long that it's easy to give him a pass for learning some hard lessons on hiring strategies during the first half of his tenure on the job. Assuming that he even had much say in them, particularly the football decisions.

Dodds may be one of the great modern athletic directors in college sports and may even be one of the best in the history of college athletics. CBS columnist Dennis Dodd thinks so, at least, for whatever that is worth.

The achievements complied by Dodds leading the Texas athletic department are certainly unparalleled in substantial, important ways that will last well beyond his time on this earth, on the field (the ones that he often built or renovated) and on the bottom line, and he did it with humanity.

But the end of his tenure adds potential qualifications to those statements as many wonder if Dodds stuck around just a little bit too long, wonder what skeletons there are haunting the closets of Bellmont.

He may not have much of a hand in writing the final chapter of that legacy if and when the Kearney lawsuit gets filed, even as he deserves profound gratitude and respect from Texas fans for everything that he built, for leaving his successor a program with perhaps diminished brilliance, but with a luminescence still unmatched in the rest of the college athletics universe.

Problematic and clouded at the end? Yeah, but thanks for everything, big guy.

It was a helluva run.

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