David McWilliams

While there may be soaring expectations for football head coach Charlie Strong, his predecessors can attest to the challenges — both on and off the field — of being a first-year head coach in Austin.

Since 1950, six Texas coaches have made their Longhorn coaching debuts, featuring a 67.6 winning percentage in their first years. In comparison, former head coach Mack Brown went 9-3 in his first season, but stepped down in December after three seasons in which the program produced a 62-percent winning percentage.

“When you’re a top program in the country, you have to be about championships,” Strong said at a Jan. 15 press conference.

Only three of Texas’ 28 previous head coaches won a conference championship in their first season: Eugene Van Gent in 1916, Berry M. Whitaker in 1920 and Fred Akers in 1977.

Akers’ team finished 11-0 in the regular season and fell just short of a national title with a loss to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. 

But even his fruitful first campaign was preceded by challenges, namely the off-field politics of the sport. Although serving nine years on popular head coach Darrell Royal’s staff eased the transition to Austin for Akers, his hire still drew criticism from many alumni and former players who wanted long-time Royal assistant coach Mike Campbell to take over and disagreed with Akers’ elimination of the wishbone system in favor of the ‘I’ formation and single-back sets. 

“I was a young guy who didn’t fully understand some of the politics and some of the pressures that come with hailing an icon as a head football coach, Darrell Royal, and I had to learn to deal with that,” Akers said.

Strong will face a similar situation as he attempts to build upon Brown’s legacy while juggling the needed changes to the program. He has met resistance already in his first month on the job — notably, Texas billionaire patron Red McCombs calling Strong’s hire a “kick in the face” because he and a few other boosters were not involved in the selection process. McCombs later apologized to Strong for the comment.

It is a pressure-packed, push-pull atmosphere that dominates the football environment at Texas. The Longhorns had a $165.7 million operating revenue for 2012-2013, the highest in college athletics. This creates financial flexibility and donors with hefty influence. David McWilliams, former Texas coach and current UT associate athletic director, says the school features the most passionate fan base in America, but that comes with a caveat for coaches. 

“The great thing about the alumni at Texas is they know football,” McWilliams said. “And the bad thing about Texas is they know football.”

McWilliams, like Akers, was a long-time assistant coach at Texas before ascending to the head role in 1987 after one season at Texas Tech. He was accustomed to the responsibilities placed upon coaches at Texas, but says they could be a bit overwhelming at times, between recruiting, coaching and alumni demands.

“You would like for there to be more hours in the day because you can certainly use them,” McWilliams said.

Free time has proven to be fleeting for Strong in his first month with the Longhorns. He described his first nine days on the job as being “pulled in different directions,” and, between recruiting, personnel and speaking engagements, Strong has not exactly had time to meditate on the position.

Nonetheless, Strong is considerably more comfortable at Texas because of his experience at Louisville. 

“This transition was a lot easier because I have head coaching experience, and I have been around it,” Strong said at his Jan. 15 press conference. “The first time around you take the job and you get to your office and you think, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Where do you go?’ Now you have a plan together, and just follow the plan.”

Of the top 10 revenue-producing programs in the FBS last season, six of the schools — Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, Florida, Ohio State and Nebraska — have hired their active coaches in the past seven seasons. A decorated group overall, the six coaches had mixed success in their first seasons, with a combined 70-percent winning percentage

This number is greatly boosted by Urban Meyer’s 12-0 campaign at Ohio State in 2012 and Brady Hoke’s 11-2 season with Michigan in 2011, but Florida’s Will Muschamp had a much more reserved 7-6 record at Florida in 2011, as did Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly when he finished 8-5 the year prior. Perhaps the most notable example comes from Nick Saban, who went a pedestrian 7-6 at Alabama in 2007 before reeling off three national championships over the next six seasons. 

Despite the mixed history of early success, championships, as Strong stated, will still be the expectation. It is a perilous environment, which McWilliams says can be navigated with patience.

“You have to be a little tough-skinned, and I think he is,” McWilliams said. “You have to be able to take criticism.”

Akers says he did not start to feel the pressure of winning at Texas until his seventh year. He credits that to being familiar with the environment in Austin, but he also admits that early wins, which helped establish a strong support system, played a significant role in his level of comfort.

“You’ve got to have support,” Akers said. “I think he’s going to step up and declare, ‘We’re going to do what Mack’s intention was — get it back on track.’ And [Strong] is the one who’s going to do it.”

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

DeLoss Dodds spent most of his time in the background during his 32-year tenure at Texas, making deals and silently elevating the program. His steps were quiet; the shadow he cast, anything but.

The University hired Dodds as the men’s athletic director on Aug. 14, 1981, and just over 33 years later, he will step down from the position. It’s a dose of consistency for a man who was defined by it. In Dodds’ time at Texas, he steered the Longhorns to 14 national titles and 108
conference championships.

“DeLoss’ vision reshaped UT-Austin,” UT President William Powers Jr said. “It reshaped college athletics, the entire NCAA. DeLoss, let me say, it has been an honor to work with you, to call you my friend.”

Dodds, a former track coach, arrived at Texas from Kansas State in 1981 and spent the next 32 years nurturing a
blossoming economic and athletic empire. At the end of 2012, the athletic program raked in $163 million in revenue, No. 1 in college sports by more than $21 million.

Texas’ athletic department is a self-funded revenue giant. Dodds ensured his student athletes had the best equipment and treatment possible, all the while funneling over $400 million to the University for facilities in his time as athletic director.

He led Texas through multiple rounds of conference realignment that transformed the landscape of college football. Dodds engineered the school’s 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network. The station is a huge asset for the school and an unprecedented recruiting edge.

Numbers define Dodds’ tenure, but it’s his lasting relationships with the student athletes and facility that will pave his legacy.

Former Longhorn football coach David McWilliams (1987-1991), currently an associate athletics director, found stability knowing Dodds had his best interests in mind. The door was always open for McWilliams and student athletes to visit.

McWilliams remembers the wake of the Longhorns’ 31-14 loss to Texas A&M in 1991, dropping Texas to 5-6 on the season. The coach was invited to Dodds’ house for dinner after the game, like he was after every season, to discuss the year and McWilliams’ job status. After the talk, McWilliams knew it was time to step down, but he never
felt pressured.

“I never had to worry about DeLoss,” McWilliams said. “He was upfront, and if it was time for me to step down, he would do it in a way that was first class.”

Former Texas shortstop Jordan Etier, who patrolled the middle of the Longhorn defense from 2008-2011, would see Dodds at practices and games 15 or 20 times a season. Etier remembers the team running extra hard in sprints when Dodds came around because they wanted to impress the man.

“He cared about winning, don’t get me wrong,” Etier said. “But he really wanted to help us develop as a person. He really cared about us, and the life we’d have after UT.”

The now 74-year-old Dodds didn’t always make the right coaching decisions — McWilliams and John Mackovic preceded his hire of Mack Brown — but he nailed his selections more often than not. Brown, basketball head coach Rick Barnes and baseball head man Augie Garrido have overseen Texas’ three juggernaut programs for more than a decade.

Each of those coaches were hired in a two-year span and Dodds has shown an impressive knack for finding and keeping some of the best coaches in the industry. Perhaps that’s because of the way he treats them. Cliff Gustafson, Texas’ baseball coach for 29 seasons and a two-time national champion, remembers his first interaction with Dodds fondly.

“When I first met him, he told me that he knew I was the best baseball coach in the country,” Gustafson said. “Well, from that moment on, I thought he was a pretty good guy.”

James Vick, an ex-officio facility representative on the Men’s Athletic Council, was one of seven people who originally interviewed Dodds for the athletic director position. The interview took place in a basement of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and Vick knew right away Dodds was the man for the job.

“I had no idea the impact he would have,” Vick said. “It’s impossible to duplicate individuals, and it’s hard to say you can get another person to do what he’s done.”

Dodds is ready to move on and spend time with his family. He wants to see the country and take his wife to Tuscany. But even halfway across the world, Dodds’ shadow will remain, silently watching over the program.

 —Additional reporting by Christian Corona