It has been a little more than eight months since Chris Del Conte left TCU to take over the Texas Longhorns athletic department and, so far, most everyone would agree that it’s been a home-run hire.
In his short tenure, Del Conte has engaged and rejuvenated a fanbase that had become dangerously apathetic towards the department after years of mediocre results and, of course, the Steve Patterson debacle.
Del Conte is proudly fan-centric and not afraid to show it. His goal to interact and engage the large Texas fanbase has turned himself into a fan favorite and even somewhat of a Twitter celebrity.
Burnt Orange Nations spoke exclusively with Del Conte for a few minutes this week and picked his brain about a few things, ranging from his favorite Austin eatery to (yes, you guessed it) reviving the A&M rivalry.
Burnt Orange Nation: You are the most Twitter-active Texas athletics director we’ve ever had. What is your philosophy around utilizing social media and how often are you using Twitter?
Chris Del Conte: It’s important for me. I say all the time — I report to the UT President [Greg Fenves], but I work for everybody. And sometimes it’s hard to reach everybody all the time. So on social media, whether it be Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, if someone asks me a question and we are asking that same person to use their discretionary income to support our program, they deserve a response from me specifically. I just feel that way.
So, depending on the situation (if it’s a game day), I’m pretty active on social media because I’m trying to figure out what is going on. And other times it’s catch-as-catch-can.
BON: You are still relatively new to the Austin area. Have you determined a favorite Austin restaurant?
CDC: Ha! A favorite restaurant? You know, and I’m not trying to be politically correct, I haven’t found a favorite restaurant because my family’s dietary needs are hilarious.
I’ve got one that’s straight vegan. I’ve got one that’s straight carnivore. And I’ve got a wife and me trying to balance my two girls out. So we’ve been trying everything to see where the best is.
But I do love Cisco’s breakfast joint — just off Sixth St. I’ve snuck in there a few times. I love that joint. The best.
BON: You mentioned at one point this past year that you preferred grass surface over artificial turf for both football and baseball. Do you envision a future for both sports on natural grass and how complicated would that switch be?
CDC: I do at some point envision that. Obviously, coaches are going to make that decision. So, for me, it’s what the head coaches prefer.
I prefer grass. I think it’s great. But, you know, we just put in new FieldTurf at the baseball field recently. That’s a big expense. To put that in and take that out is a couple million dollars.
If we are successful in completing the South End Zone project, I would assume that we would go back to grass. I know Tom (Herman) and I have talked about it. But it hasn’t been like a firm commitment on either end.
I just prefer grass. There are only three schools in the conference with grass — TCU, Iowa State, and Oklahoma. Everyone else has FieldTurf.
From my standpoint, grass is better. We won a national championship on grass. I love it. But it’s not as easy as they say. If we are able to do the South End Zone project I would really push for that to be a possibility.
BON: You’ve talked a lot about facilities and have experience in upgrading facilities at past stops. How far behind is Texas in the facilities arms race and how challenging is it to get Texas to where it needs to be?
CDC: I would say that we set the standard for facilities in the late 1990s and early 2000s, for sure.
You know, the building we are in right now was built for John Mackovic when he was leaving and then Mack Brown moved into it. And, at the same time, we were the first to really have a basketball practice facility when Barnes started and everyone would come in and look at that.
My wife and I’s favorite pastime when we were young and in Houston — we would drive down into River Oaks and look at all those houses and go, “Gah, can you imagine who lives in that house?” And we had one favorite house of ours.
We went back to Houston this year for the Texas Bowl and said, “Let’s go look at those houses again.” So we drove over to River Oaks.
Our favorite house was no longer the biggest or best in the neighborhood. It was still our favorite house, but others had built new houses or improved the houses around them.
And that’s what we have to do.
We have great bones. But A&M built a brand-new football stadium. Baylor built a brand-new football stadium. TCU did massive renovations. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, as well. Everyone has done something to their facilities.
We have not done a big renovation to our facility for our players and for our fans. Club, lounge, suites, etc. Player amenities as well. So we have to take a look at that.
But every one of our facilities has great bones. They just need to be refreshed. So how far behind are we? We aren’t behind but we need to go back and set the standard is the way I look at it. And we are well on our way.
BON: You set up the home-and-home with Alabama rather quickly. Alabama hasn’t played a true road non-conference game since traveling to Penn State in 2011. What sparked that game and how complicated is the process setting up these marquee nonconference games?
CDC: If you look at our scheduling right now for a moment. The philosophy has always been to have a big-time opponent. This year we have USC on the back end of home-and-home. Then we have LSU, home-and-home. Then we have a return game to Arkansas. Then Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan again. So I think our philosophy is always trying to play a significant brand opponent as one of our three non-conference games. And that’s been great.
With the Alabama game, we had Ohio State reach out to me and ask to move our game back a couple years because they were able to schedule Notre Dame. I understood that. I said, “Okay, but let me find a game before we do that.”
The athletics cirector at Alabama is a dear friend of mine and said ‘Hey, do you want to play a home-and-home?’
And I said ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ And we were able to do that.
We talked briefly to A&M. A&M was already booked at the time and couldn’t do it. Alabama had an opening and away we went.
Usually it’s not that easy. We are now working on games for 2027, 2028, 2029, 2030, 2031, 2032.
The AD at TCU will not touch football scheduling until 2031. That’s how far out I booked TCU. I booked every game of the decade from 2020-2030.
BON: So you actually have already talked with A&M about a potential game?
CDC: Yeah, I said “Hey, if I’m able to move this game does it make sense?”
But see the problem isn’t that they said no. It’s all about the timing.
So listen here: Today is July 25, 2018. Imagine: Every single football game is booked between now and 2030. That’s how far out we are.
I’m already booked with our major opponents until 2028 — and I’m talking about the big major Power Five conference games. So when Ohio State wanted to move that game, it’s not that easy to do it with that short of notice.
People think, “But that’s five years away.”
Yeah, but we are so far out in terms of scheduling. It just happened to be perfect timing for Alabama and wasn’t good timing for A&M.
So we scheduled Alabama and were also able to slot Ohio State a few years back.
BON: Do you envision a future when college football games aren’t scheduled by the school but rather an overarching governing body?
CDC: It’s hard to say that. If you look at the NFL, it’s only 32 teams. In college football, we have 65 Power Five, 65 Group of Five and, of course, I-AA — the number of teams is just so much different. I just don’t know.
I understand the concept you are getting at, I just don’t see that happening any time, specifically in my lifetime.
BON: When the Southwest Conference came to an end and Texas moved to what is now the Big 12, they were somewhat tethered to other programs in the state. If you grow up in Texas, you interact with fans of other Texas schools daily. In the future, if Texas does end up moving elsewhere, is the school tethered to the other in-state programs?
CDC: What I love about college football is what you just described. Rivalries. Georgia playing Georgia Tech, Clemson playing South Carolina, Florida playing Florida State. It’s a shame that Pitt doesn’t play West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl. These longstanding games have been around forever.
The greatest thing about the Southwest Conference is that all the games were in the state and then you had Arkansas right up the road. Think about all those games. The water cooler conversations lasted all year after a game — until the next year. I think Mack Brown said it best. The best thing about college athletics is that the rivalry games matter and you need to have them.
That being said, conference shifts and changes have been happening since the dawn of time. University of Chicago, believe it or not, was in the Big Ten in the 1930s. Tulane used to belong to the SEC. You know what I mean? Nebraska was a Big 8 member and they’re no longer in the Big 12. Arizona and Arizona State belonged to the WAC. South Carolina didn’t join the SEC until the 80s.
There have always been conference shifts. To me, the most important thing is realizing that it’s always been part of the athletic landscape. What happened five or six years ago was just unusual because of the amount of conference shifting in a short amount of time.
BON: Finally (per Mrs. Moore request), beans or no beans in your chili?
CDC: Well, you know. It depends. What time of day am I eating it?
It also depends what chili it is. I’m from New Mexico and I eat green chili. I like a lot of green chili with my eggs for breakfast.
Now, if it’s dinner and I’m having chili, there are going to be beans in it. It all depends on the time of day. Not being vague, but it all depends on the meal, right?
When I say chili, you’re thinking of meat and beans but I mean like what I grew up on. Green chili — you pull it off the vine, fry it up, dice it up and put in your eggs. It’s the best you’ve ever had.