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Chris Del Conte expresses support for Steve Sarkisian

With five years and $29 million guaranteed on Sarkisian’s contract, at least this doesn’t equate to the dreaded vote of confidence.

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NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns athletics director Chris Del Conte’s weekly newsletter normally serves as a cheerleading feature for all the accomplishments by Longhorns athletes, but on Tuesday, Del Conte addressed the biggest storyline surrounding the athletic department — the five-game losing streak by head coach Steve Sarkisian in his first year, capped by the 57-56 overtime loss to Kansas at home on Saturday.

After quoting Sarkisian’s comments from his Monday press conference about what happened against the Jayhawks, Del Conte sought to reassure Texas fans frustrated with another disappointing season.

“At Texas Athletics, we all know it was a devastating way to lose,” wrote Del Conte. “You all are so passionate about your Longhorns and feel frustrated about how things have gone for five games. Trust me, we’re so disappointed and frustrated, too, but no one is more upset than Coach Sark and the team.”

Going on to quote Sarkisian again, Del Conte then expressed confidence in the Texas head coach, his staff, and the program’s long-term future.

“None of us expected what we’re up against now, but that’s why we hired him and a tremendous staff to allow us to build a foundation for long-term success. Our Longhorns need to continue to learn and grow from these challenging times. We can be there by their side to help pull them through,” wrote Del Conte.

Del Conte also adopted the talking points from Sarkisian’s Monday press conference about recent attrition in the program — 52 percent of the 2018 recruiting class and 46 percent of the 2019 recruiting class are no longer with the program, two No. 3-ranked classes that should make up the juniors and seniors on the roster. Over the last four classes combined, the total attrition rate stands at 33 percent.

The Longhorns got hit by the flu, too, with 25 players missing practice last Tuesday and three others in COVID protocol, including junior running back Keilan Robinson, who missed the game against the Jayhawks.

Like Sarkisian, Del Conte didn’t want to frame the attrition discussion as excuses, but it’s hard to view discussions of attrition as anything other than excuses after the program’s first home loss to Kansas, an absolutely inexcusable result worthy of termination in most situations.

With five years and $29 million fully guaranteed for Sarkisian, that termination obviously isn’t going to happen after his first season, and the Texas head coach indicated on Monday that the administration hasn’t told him to make any changes on his coaching staff, either.

So though Del Conte’s words on Tuesday may mean as much as his announcement that Tom Herman would remain the Longhorns head coach mere weeks before reversing coach and firing Herman, he did express his support for the coaching staff overall before moving into an injury discussion.

“Coach Sark is building a culture, he has a tremendous group of coaches with him, and we are providing every ounce of support we can muster to help them redirect our program. We have a group of coaches who are proven and have a wealth of experience. They have all succeeded at the highest level. They will help us do that here, too. The guys are fighting their butts off on the field, and we have a really good group of student-athletes giving it all they have. We’ve been dealt a tough hand with more injuries to players this week. Two young men who are among the best in the Big 12 at their positions, Bijan Robinson and Josh Thompson are out. We know we’re up against even more challenges and going through a difficult stretch. That being said, our Texas Fight and resolve never waivers,” wrote Del Conte.

The Texas athletics director pled with the Longhorn Family to remain united, but the most remarkable thing of all is that he felt the need to make such statements publicly after where the program was a little more than five weeks ago when it was 4-1 and led Oklahoma 28-7 in the Cotton Bowl.

“We need to stay positive and remain united as a Longhorn Family. We know there are better days ahead, and I know y’all will continue to be the wind beneath our wings to help lead us there,” Del Conte told fans.