With all due respect to former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, the Texas Longhorns are no longer the Joneses.
Not of college sports in general and certainly not of college football after failing to become bowl eligible in three of the last seven seasons and falling behind national programs and in-state competition in facilities.
But new head coach Tom Herman intends to fix all of that, starting with the facilities, acknowledging that “we’re behind, but not by much.”
Last week, Herman went on a tour of the facilities with athletic director Mike Perrin, associate athletic director Arthur Johnson, and director of football operations Fernando Lovo to assess the needed changes.
During that walk-through, Herman finalized a three-point plan to at least narrow the gap with schools like Alabama.
The first step is the graphics in the hallways of the football facilities, a process that has already begun. The next two steps involve a larger renovation of the Moncrief-Neuhaus athletic complex and improvements to the weight room.
While other in-state programs like Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M have all made major changes in those areas over the last several years, in addition to Big 12 rival Oklahoma, Texas has been stagnant since the locker room received improvements in 2011.
At that time, the Longhorns put in new lockers in addition to a nutrition bar, a lounge area with gaming stations, a large screen in the center of the room, multiple smaller screens around the locker room, and a new sound system and speakers.
In the intervening years, the standards nationally and in the region increased with new or rebuilt stadiums in College Station, Norman, and Waco. All of a sudden, the Longhorns were no longer the Joneses.
Built in 1986, the Moncrief complex received its last large-scale improvements when the south end zone was reconfigured in 2009, adding a much larger football academic center, new indoor practice area, defensive meeting room, hall of fame and a newly-designed facility entrance.
Now it needs its first update is nearly a decade.
“This is a place that has unbelievable tradition and history and we’re never going to forsake that in the name of upgrading facilities. So we have to find a way to intertwine all that history and tradition here, but also make this a place that is appealing to 17-year-old young men,” Herman said.
Other facility upgrades precipitated by Dell Medical School construction will include the football practice facility and the construction of a new basketball arena and basketball and volleyball practice facilities. Other improvements detailed by the Athletics Master Plan released in May stretch across sports.
And then there’s the possibility of further south end zone renovations. Former athletics director Steve Patterson envisioned more luxury suits there, while the Master Plan showed rather ambiguous changes and could necessitate the removal of the Godzillatron and installation of one or more new video boards.
The sound system, Wi-Fi, and bathrooms at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium also need improvements, regardless of larger and more expensive structural changes. And those are necessary upgrades that should come as soon as possible.
In other words, the next decade will result in major athletics expenditures for the university across sports, even if the entirety of the school’s ambitious plans don’t come to fruition.
At the moment, Herman isn’t particularly worried about where that money will come from.
“My job is to tell President Fenves and Mike Perrin what we need to compete at a championship level,” Herman said.
“Administrations win championships. I’ve been told yes for everything I’ve asked for, from the renovations to this building that we’re in, from anywhere to graphics to locker rooms to the weight room to the support staff.”
When Herman was at Houston, he sometimes had to take matters into his own hands to make needed changes.
Meticulous about the appearance of the facilities, every day Herman arrived, he would inspect the floor and pick up gum wrappers, preparing as if a top recruit could show up unannounced at any moment.
One hallway had especially old flooring that began to peel at the edges due to moisture. A lengthy exchange of emails with the athletic department didn’t produce any changes, so Herman decided that he would pay for the new floor, then spent an evening pulling up the deteriorating flooring.
The administration installed new flooring within weeks.
At Texas, with an administration that both supports Herman and has the finances to put facility renovations in motion, things are happening much more quickly and much less painfully.
Perhaps even more so than the Master Plan lays out, Herman has ambitious hopes for the future to keep the ‘Horns from ever falling so far behind the facilities of competitors again.
“I think you should always have some capital project in football going on all the time, that is on varying levels,” Herman said. “It’s kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. As soon as you get done you have to start over. So you got to constantly be doing things and going back to, ‘Okay, we did that 10 years ago, 15 years ago, its time to go back as now we’re just finishing up X project we’re starting on Y project and Z project is way down the road.’”
For the short term, it’s full-steam ahead on the graphics in the hallways and then the renovations to the football complex overall and weight room specifically.
“Nothing a multi-million dollar facelift can’t fix so that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”