DeLoss Dodds: A silver anniversary for the man with the Midas touch
In the teaching parlance of the man who delivered DeLoss Dodds to The University of Texas in 1981:
“To be or not to be?”
Thanks to Jim Ayres, regents professor at The University of Texas, the answer was “to be.”
As in DeLoss Dodds changed his mind and opted “to be” the men's athletics director at Texas after a conversation with Ayres, a professor in the Department of English and holder of the Shakespeare at Winedale Professorship and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at UT.
Today, 87 conference championships later, it’s hard to imagine what the last quarter century of UT Athletics would have been like without the “Riley Flash,” a.k.a. Dodds, who was given that nickname by the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury newspaper because of his sports prowess in high school.
“It seems as though it has been 100 years,” Dodds said jokingly of his time at Texas. “It’s been a good 25 years, and I have enjoyed most of it.”
As have UT patrons.
On Dodds’ watch, the Athletics Department budget has grown from $4 million in 1981 to $93 million in 2007. The combining of the men’s and women’s budgets – in 2000 – and the Erwin Center coming under management by UT Athletics – in 2004 – were factors in the significant jumps during this timeline.
Construction, expansion and renovating of facilities also have been highlights under Dodds, be it the building of the Mike A. Myers Track & Soccer Stadium and the Red & Charline McCombs Field (softball) in 1998 or the turf replacement (mid-1990s) and renovation of Disch-Falk Field.
The expansion of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium – from the west-side suites that were completed in 1997 to the current west-side press box, club-level renovation, scoreboard, upgrade of sound system and north end zone project – totals nearly $240 alone.
Add Dodds’ creation of the Longhorn Foundation in 1984 when he united the clubs of various sports into an organization of 12,000 which accounts for annual gifts in the $22 million range.
He mentioned the Longhorn Foundation when asked the accomplishments he was most proud of during the last 25 years.
Dodds also was a key figure in the creation of the Big 12 Conference, which has led to an even higher national profile for both men’s and women’s athletics, as well as increased revenues.
But about the idea that it almost was “DeLoss, wherefore art thou?”
Enter Professor Ayres.
“I was a member of the Men’s Intercollegiate Athletics Council from 1978 through 1982,” Ayres wrote in an e-mail from Brasenose College in Oxford, England, where he is teaching this summer. “And I was on the selection committee, meeting DeLoss for the first time during his interview with the members of the Council in the summer of 1981.
“I read his dossier, along with the other two candidates, and after the interview, I was certain he was the choice for the position. I exchanged thoughts on the three candidates with Professor Tom Morgan, who was the Council chair, and who, like me, came away from the meeting very high on DeLoss and thoroughly impressed.”
Ayres said a few days later, Morgan arranged for a conference call with the committee and the vote was unanimous: Dodds was the man.
“After hearing nothing from Tom for the next few days, I finally called him and asked, 'What’s up?'" Ayres said. “Tom said DeLoss seemed very pleased but also was a bit hesitant. Tom indicated DeLoss was uncertain about several things and was sounding as though he was going to reject the offer.”
Dodds once before had refused a high profile school, turning down the late Paul “Bear” Bryant for the track coaching position at the University of Alabama.
“And, no, he didn’t growl at me,” Dodds said with a hint of a laugh.
Fast forward to 1981.
“I asked Tom if I could help in some way, perhaps by calling DeLoss,” Ayres said. “Tom said he thought that was a good idea and he gave me the number.”
Ayres said that Dodds seemed pleased to hear from him and the professor explained that while he was in the midst of his Shakespeare work that he was eager to know what Dodds was thinking about the offer.
“DeLoss seemed to me to be a person who appreciated directness, so I just asked, ‘What are your thoughts about Texas?’” Ayres recalled. “During our talk, which was about 45 minutes to an hour, DeLoss asked about regents, the school president, the governor, Darrell Royal, the athletic department administrative staff, the coaches and the reception to the change.
“DeLoss had done his homework. He was keenly aware of Frank Erwin’s legacy, as well as Coach Royal’s. I worked very hard to assure him that we were entering a new period at The University with a new, far-sighted administration looking to the future. I talked to him about the coaches and staff, their special qualities, friendship, loyalty and resilience.
“In my own way, I tried to make him feel comfortable. There was no hint of debate, tension or argument during our conversation. I felt as though I was sitting in a rocking chair talking to a neighbor. Toward the end, DeLoss said he enjoyed our talk and I asked him to call me if he had any other questions.”
Not long after that telephone conversation, Dodds accepted the job.
That begot a phone call from Morgan to Ayres.
“I remember hearing Tom say, ‘What the heck did you tell him?’” Ayres said. “I was most pleased to hear the news, but I was not surprised.
“Nor am I surprised that DeLoss is here working miracles 25 years later.”
Dodds, who along with his wife, Mary Ann, had spent most of his life in Kansas, said it was the uprooting of family that caused his hesitation and reticence about accepting the position.
“But we finally looked at each other and said, ‘This is the right thing to do,’” said Dodds, who was the Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal 2005 National Athletic Director of the Year Award winner.
The unparalleled success of the last 25 years bears out the fact that Dodds coming to Texas, indeed, was the right thing to do for all concerned.
Dodds, whose looks and active life belies the fact that he is 69, appears willing to have this run continue, as University officials are reworking his current contract that is set to expire in 2009.
“I told them I’d be happy to stay if that’s what they wanted to do,” Dodds said.
While the current state of Texas Athletics, topped by the national title won by the football team last season, couldn’t be better, Dodds remembers that wasn’t the case when he arrived.
“Early on, football was doing well, but people weren’t happy,” he began. “Basketball -- people were happy with, but there were problems.”
Dodds made coaching changes in both major men’s sports within the first four years of his arrival and had to make changes again in both within another five years.
Asked about having the chance for a “do-over,” Dodds said, “We all have those. We all have things we didn’t do well and we’d like the chance to do again. But that isn’t real life.”
Had Ayres not spoken to him and had Dodds walked away from Texas, where would he be today?
“I haven’t a clue,” Dodds said. “Most ADs last about six or seven years so I wouldn’t still have been at Kansas State.”
Ayres has a different timeframe for Dodds and Texas.
“I figure he’s good for another 50 years,” Ayres said. “No one else in the country has a program like ours. No one.”