Bill Little commentary: Class behind the scenes
Aug. 26, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Betty Corley was sitting in a lawn chair at a little league game watching her son play, and she and her companion -- a friend named Haila Kauffman -- were comparing notes on jobs. At the time, Betty was working for the Texas Teacher Retirement System. Haila had recently joined the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics for Men at The University of Texas at Austin.
"Her job sounded like it would be so much fun," Corley recalled recently, "I told her if they ever had an opening, for her to let me know."
Sure enough, in the fall of 1979, an administrative assistant position opened, and Corley found herself in the office of Darrell Royal, who was the athletics director.
"I remember being so nervous," she said. "He sat in a rocking chair, and I sat on the couch. It was pretty intimidating. There he was, larger than life, and here I was, hoping to go to work for him."
Whatever Corley said, she must have said it right. She got the job. Thirty years later, almost to the day, she is retiring after a tenure where she has been arguably one of the most valuable employees in the department.
Friday afternoon, Corley and Kaufmann will be honored at a retirement party in Red McCombs Red Zone in the horseshoe of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Friends and staff members will come to celebrate a body of work that transcends The University of Texas and intercollegiate athletics on the national level.
Corley joined the department on October 10, 1979. At the time, she was handling administrative work for Dr. Tom Morgan, who had recently become head of the UT Athletics Council. Kauffman at the time was working for Royal, who was in the role of athletics director after retiring as head football coach in 1976.
In December, Royal decided he was "setting his bucket down" and leaving the department entirely. In the days that followed that announcement, the department was in transition. But it wasn't long until Bill Ellington, Royal's long-time Assistant Athletics Director, was named to the AD's job.
When Ellington called Corley in for a closed door meeting, the new employee again was nervous about her future.
"And then he asked me to come work for him in the Athletics Directors office," Corley recalled.
With that, Corley moved into an office she would occupy until she was promoted to a special assistant's role a couple of years ago. When Ellington retired and DeLoss Dodds was hired in 1981, Corley became his aide.
"The things I will remember most about Betty will be her loyalty and her ability to maintain a confidence. She is a totally trust-worthy person who did everything she could to help me and the department," said Dodds.
Corley's tenure with Dodds spanned historic moments and decisions that changed the face of college athletics, and athletics at Texas. When Dodds became a key figure in NCAA restructuring and eventually the formation of the Big 12 Conference, Corley managed highly confidential documents whose privacy was critical.
First with a typewriter and a telephone, and then with a computer, e-mail and a cell phone, she became a confidant on matters such as coaching changes and NCAA matters. And all of it she kept to herself.
In her 30 years with the department, she became the trusted "gate keeper" to the AD's office.
"What I like about Betty," Ellington once said, "is that she can be tough as a boot on the one hand, and sweet as a jar of molasses on the other. And she knows when to be which."
Steve Hatchell, one of the leading figures in college athletics who is now president of the National Football Foundation, has known Corley since Dodds came to Texas.
"Betty is tremendously efficient," said Hatchell. "She understood her job and she understood her boss. She knew when something was a real issue and when it wasn't, and she handled things in a classy way. Most of all, she was a friend."
In her role with the athletics director's office, she served as hostess for suites at Longhorn football, basketball, and baseball games, but when game time came, you would find her and her husband, Chris, sitting in the stands cheering on the Longhorns. A day's work might include planning a reception for a National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame inductee at the Waldorf Astoria in New York at the same time she was transcribing minutes from the last meeting of the Athletics Council.
Thirty years removed from his first meeting with Corley, Royal figures his choice has been validated.
"First of all, I'm proud of that hire. Betty has been a great worker for the athletics department. I have never seen Betty in a foul mood. She was always cheerful, and she helped me when I had my down moments. She put a great face on the Texas athletics department," Royal said.
As Corley steps away from her full-time duties with The University, chances are good she won't be too far away.
"There are just too many times when we are trying to figure something out that we just say `ask Betty,'" said one long-time department employee. "She's earned some time off, but my guess is, she won't stay gone for long."