Texas Longhorns athletic director Steve Patterson is losing the perception battle following several unpopular moves documented in a June report from Horns Digest, but is now attempting to address those concerns in a memo obtained by several media outlets as he comes under criticism from his superior.
The memo's release came a day after the Austin American-Statesman published a report that new UT-Austin president Greg Fenves has recently met with Patterson twice and plans to do so again on Friday. Is Patterson's job in trouble? Both sources quoted by the Statesman believe it's possible, but right now Fenves doesn't want to make a change despite some pressure from donors.
What Fenves does reportedly believe, according to sources who spoke with the Dallas Morning News, is that Patterson needs to change his "personal style":
The sources cautioned that Patterson hasn't yet reached the point of no return with new school president Greg Fenves. The two are scheduled to talk again Friday, sources said, as part of regularly scheduled meetings. In previous meetings, Fenves has expressed concern and told Patterson of the need to change an approach that some see as impersonal or even arrogant.
The second report is particularly interesting because it signals that there are multiple people in the athletic department or connected to Fenves willing to air the private conversations between the two, perhaps even as a more public warning to Patterson.
The problem for the Texas athletic director is that the memo can't remove those significant concerns about his personal style and management tactics, which includes reports of frosty donor relations, a key element of Patterson's job requirements because the Dell Medical School will necessitate the construction of new facilities for football, basketball, and tennis.
As for that memo, it addresses some criticism directed at Patterson, but not all of it. Many believe that Patterson views the athletic department solely as a means to make money, charges the document attempts to dispel, even as the DMN says that any goodwill towards the athletic director has "pretty much been exhausted."
One key point from the memo -- the Texas athletic department finished with a net loss of $8.1 million in 2013-14, the first time since 1999-2000 that it wasn't profitable. Other than paying coaching buyouts, one of the major issues was the lack of increase in ticket revenue and donations, which the memo says remained flat over the last five years. So apart from the need to rebuild so many facilities, increasing revenue by increasing donations is also a priority and why Patterson's lack of people skills is coming under so much justified scrutiny from inside and outside the university.
Patterson is also budget-conscious because of other cost increases for the university, including $800,000 for the new meal plan for athletes, $250,000 for snacks, and pending increases in cost of attendance that will result in $1.5 million in extra spending per year.
Why did Texas institute parking fees for the first time? According to the memo, the school paid $1.2 million per year to the city to use parking facilities, a sum the university is now working to recoup through the newly-insittuted parking fees. On the average gameday, 40 percent of those spots went unused, costing the university money in usage fees.
Despite an increase in overall ticket prices, the school sold 92 percent of the public season ticket allotment amid concerns that season ticket sales could drop once again. However, there's still significant discord after Patterson removed the ability of faculty and staff to purchase two Longhorns All-Sports Packages for less than the cost of one season ticket, replaced by a flat 20 percent discount.
In an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram back in June, Texas communications professor Rick Cherwitz admitted that he didn't renew his season tickets this year for the first time in 36 years:
It was clear to us that the Athletics Department no longer considers faculty and staff to be members of the "family" and "community" — the very people who educate and serve student athletes. Instead, we became another one of the institution's many "corporate customers."
So add faculty relations to donor relations as two areas in which Patterson's personal style is causing problems for him and for the university moving forward.
It's understandable that Fenves doesn't want to make a change at this time and instead hopes that Patterson can change his ways. The problem is that Patterson didn't seem to learn from his failures in Portland as the Trailblazers general manager.
What indications are there that he can learn from his mistakes at Texas if he hasn't grown since leaving the Pacific Northwest in 2007?
Perhaps he's simply incapable of changing his personal style.