Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte is a busy man.
Yet, once a year before the start of the football season, he makes time to answer a few questions from Burnt Orange Nation about all the happenings going on within Bellmont Hall.
As Texas prepares for what should be an incredibly exciting fall season of varsity athletics, I spoke with Del Conte about what fans should expect this season, how the department has evolved and what life is like as the man in charge.
Below is our conversation.
From your perspective, how has the athletics department at Texas changed in the last two years? What is your vision for the next few years?
I don’t know if I’m the one to answer how it has changed because I don’t know how it was before I got here. I think any time you come into a new department, you spend your first year listening and learning. We’ve been addressing the needs of our coaches and our student athletes.
We are trying to make sure we have unbelievable facilities for our coaches not only to train, but also to recruit the finest student athletes to the University of Texas. We are doing that with baseball, softball, the pool, the new basketball arena, football, track and field, and soccer projects — I believe we are building momentum and stability.
As a university we’ve had three chancellors, two presidents, four athletic directors, three football coaches, two basketball coaches, and two baseball coaches in the last five years. There has been a lot of turnover. So we’ve spent a lot of time re-establishing Texas culture — what it means to be a Longhorn and making sure we get back to solid footing on our foundation all the way around. I think that’s been the key to the last two years.
What is your day-to-day like at Texas or are no two days the same? How often are you connecting with coaches, university administration, and what are your top priorities as an AD? And how good is your parking spot?
How good my parking spot is? That’s a good one.
As for my day-to-day, it changes every day. If you remember that movie: “Life is a box of chocolates — you never know what you are going to get.”
Every day there is something that comes up that is completely different. But you always start every day with the same framework: What is good for our student athletes and what is good for our coaches?
We will do everything in our power to help our coaches accomplish everything they need to accomplish. We are the wind beneath their wings, so to speak. It constantly changes every day — it just depends on what is happening.
But yeah, I do have a really good parking spot.
What is the process of scheduling a college football game? How many people are involved? How long does it take? Do coaches weigh in on scheduling decisions? Are you working on any out-of-conference games for the mid-2030s?
It’s actually pretty easy: You just pick up the phone and call the other athletics director and say ‘Do you want to play? Do you have an opening here?’
[Assistant Texas athletics director] Shawn Eichorst, Fernando Lovo, Tom Herman, and I work closely together in looking at our non-conference schedule and who we want to play, what we want to accomplish.
I want to play a significant non-conference game every year that has great national attention. Whether it be LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia, Florida. They’ve all won national championships. They are all national identifiable brands that mean something to college football. And I believe those games should be played.
Those athletic directors are dear friends of mine. We talk through the philosophy of playing those games — why it is good for college football — and then we schedule those games as far out as we can schedule. I think we are scheduled through 2030.
I won’t try to schedule anymore games past that because I think we need to work through the decade of games we have scheduled. Then we look at the Group of Five games on our schedule — we are going try to play in the state. You have Texas State, UTEP, etc.
So we have nine conference games — we are going to try and play one significant non-conference game every season. And that’s what we’ve scheduled.
Do you see a benefit in having a “tune-up” game rather than opening against a Power 5 opponent?
I wouldn’t call any game a “tune-up” game. It’s hard when you’re farther out scheduling, right? You’re trying to balance your schedule. I wouldn’t refer to any game as a tune up.
You’ve got games that you want to schedule that make the most sense for your non-conference schedule as well as your conference schedule.
The ultimate goal is to go 1-0 every single game, win a Big 12 championship, and play in the College Football Playoff. That’s the goal. And you try to work your schedule around that goal to create opportunities to give yourself the best chance to do that.
Totally unrelated: Have you spoken with new Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork?
Yeah, I know him. I congratulated him when he got the job but I haven’t spoken to him since.
There is a lot of excitement going into the season for Texas football. How have you seen the football program transform in the last two years and what are your expectations for the next two years?
I think we are just seeing Tom’s culture takeover.
Tom had the benefit of being here under Mack Brown early in his career. He was with me at Rice for a little bit and then went to Iowa State, Ohio State, and Houston. This is a young man in terms of age but wise in terms of experience. You can see the building blocks of what he is building — it’s taking shape.
Every year he is adding pieces to the puzzle to put a program in place that we can all be proud of. It begins and ends with Tom and the culture he is instilling in our athletics program and I think the excitement around that is because people can see the building blocks happening. They can see the foundation taking place.
Declining attendance has been a discussion every offseason for the last few years. Would you say it is a bigger challenge in Austin than in most other college towns because of how much there is to do and the fact that no true rival plays in Austin?
I think it’s a number of different factors. Factors in terms of the experience at home. The ability to have an 80-inch screen TV that you can have at your house and watch multiple games — you can have all kinds of activities going on.
I don’t think it has to do with the size of the city. If it’s a small college town that’s not necessarily easy to get to, people will say “Ah, it’s just too hard to get there. I can’t go that weekend.”
You can always make a rational excuse for why people are coming or not coming. Having nationally relevant games are critical.
We live in a great city. It’s a great place to come — whether you’re in Dallas, Houston, Tyler, or El Paso — you can come to the state capitol for a weekend and it’s going to be awesome.
And what we are going to do is create an environment around our football program and around our stadium that makes people want to come back and celebrate this great university. And I want people to be there for live entertainment, to watch their team perform. But more importantly, I want to be there to celebrate their university.
So I think that there are a lot of factors at play. Everyone is going to have a reason to come, whether it’s a small college town or a place like Austin. We are up in attendance this year. It’s been a great year. Last year was great as well — we were up in attendance from the previous year.
So, success goes hand-to-hand with young people coming to campus and celebrating this institution. That’s what we are focusing on.
At what point did you decide that a new end zone renovation was necessary and why? And how do you anticipate it helps the program and revitalizes DKR?
The facility that was originally built to house the football program operationally was built for Darrell Royal. It was remodeled for John Mackovic. That’s how old that facility is.
When you look around the country, we’ve had so many people re-investing in facilities over the last 20 years and we have not had that same re-investment in that particular facility. If we want to be the very best and set the standard for others to follow, you have to continually invest in the enterprise. And when I looked at that building I said, “Wait a minute.”
If our expectations are going to match those of our demands then our facilities must match, as well. Old facilities that are not new or modern and haven’t been updated since the ‘90s. What does that tell you? It’s like buying a house. If you buy a house — your dream house — and the bones are great, yet, you go in there and it hasn’t been renovated for 20 or 30 years, what are you going to say? Boy, pretty tired.
Bottom line: Our facilities were not matching our expectations. And they need to match our expectations.
What will it look like during the season?
It’ll look like a construction zone. It is what it is. There’s nothing you need to cover up. Why hide progress, right?
Is someone set to fire off Smokey the Cannon this year? Who is it?
I believe the institution has already addressed that. I think the Silver Spurs will be responsible for Smokey for the foreseeable future.
I live in North Carolina. Today is a big day here with the launch of the ACC Network. Do you have an interest in keeping the Longhorn Network but also developing a Big 12 Network outside of the current agreement with ESPN+?
We already have a Big 12 Network with ESPN+. And we have a linear network with LHN. So we have the benefits of both. That’s an exciting piece for the University of Texas and our brand.
Last year, you gave me Cisco’s as your restaurant recommendation for breakfast tacos, which is an extremely solid recommendation. You’ve got the whole family in town and you have to take everyone to dinner, where are you going?
You’re going to laugh. It’s different. I have a vegan, a vegetarian, and I am a carnivore. That being said, we end up having to go to Whole Foods more than anything else. That’s the only way I can appease my three ladies.
You know what I mean? Think through that: You’ve got one carnivore, one vegan, and two vegetarians. You know what we are eating? Whole Foods. I’m like, really ladies? This town has 1,000 restaurants! I can only eat so much lettuce and rabbit food without going bonkers. In order for us to all be on the same page, we go to Whole Foods. We are there at least a couple nights a week for sure.