For years, Jimmie McDowell—a Mississippian with a Southern drawl to match—was the chief executive officer of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. Then about 10 years ago, he and the organization which he had fostered parted company.
It was then that Jimmie, from his home base in the Mississippi Delta, started an organization called the All-American Football Foundation. He based the group, which at times appears to be led by a committee of one (and that would be the guy they once called "Mississippi Red" himself), loosely on the premise of the NFF.
But in the creation of the new group, Jimmie chose to honor more than those all-Americans and stellar head coaches who were eligible for consideration for College Football Hall of Fame recognition. He included behind the scenes folks whose daily efforts make football programs such as Texas work.
That is why, in the last two years, a couple of guys who have given a bunch to the Longhorns have been rewarded. On May 10, at the All-American Football Foundation's 70th Banquet of Champions in Dallas, Mack Brown received the organization's Johnny Vaught (I told you Jimmie was from Mississippi) Head Coach Award. Sally Brown was honored with the "First Lady" of football award. Cedric Benson was recognized as a "Col. Earl "Red" Blaik Leadership" winner.
And somewhere down in that long list of honorees at the $150 a plate dinner, Chip Robertson received the Outstanding Equipment Manager award.
"Chipper," will finally got his due, just as a year ago, the Longhorns Assistant AD for Media Relations, John Bianco received the Scoop Hudgins Sports Information Director Award.
Chip Robertson and John Bianco are both members of Mack Brown's football staff. They are as different as two could be in some ways, and absolutely alike in others. Chip, like McDowell, is a native of Mississippi. After graduating from high school in McComb, he attended the University of Mississippi. While at Ole Miss, he worked in the equipment room as a student, and graduated with a degree in accounting in 1978.
He has been at Texas since 1993. Prior to that, he was the equipment manager at SMU for 11 years and spent two years as the assistant equipment manager at Missouri.
Bianco came to Texas in 1992, as assistant sports information director, and now holds the title of Assistant AD for Media Relations, with primary responsibility as the day-to-day Longhorn football team liaison with the media. Bianco grew up in upstate New York, and was a track athlete at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio before earning his degree and entering the sports information profession. He served internships at Fresno State and Arkansas and was an assistant SID and worked with a Final Four basketball team at Cincinnati before coming to Texas.
Neither Robertson nor Bianco have easy jobs, but they both do them well. And besides having a "family" of football players, both are great Dads and husbands…with, I should hasten to add, understanding wives who have learned that their job—particularly during football season—is one of long hours.
What the two of them have earned, most of all, is the respect and friendship of the players with whom they work. Robertson and Bianco both manage staffs and work with students, but it is the relationship with the players which keeps them going. You can tell the mark of a person when former players make a point of going by to see them when they drop by campus.
It's not unusual for Robertson to get a "drop-in" visitor, and it is pretty regular for Bianco to pick up his cell phone and see the number of a former player who has gone on to great success, both in and out of football.
In their own way, they are mentors and teachers. Robertson teaches the responsibility of taking care of things, and Bianco has spent countless hours helping athletes with interview techniques that help them in whatever profession they choose.
As members of Brown's football support staff, they are an important piece of input to the program. More important, however, they represent a whole chain of people who are often unnoticed but are critical to success. You could give an award to every administrative assistant, graduate assistant, student worker, academic tutors and mentors, strength and conditioning assistants, video interns and those full-time assistants and students who work for both Robertson and Bianco.
They are all part of the Texas football family that Brown has created.
It was ironic, and a perfect fit for this story, that the athletics department presented its awards for tenure at The University Tuesday morning. One of the recipients is probably the greatest example of what it means to be willing to do anything to help the program.
Several years ago, all of us were shocked and saddened to know that Mike Korth, who had been a part of the operations staff since he was a student, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. They did surgery, they did treatments, and then they left it to a Higher Authority.
Tuesday morning in the Erwin Center, Mike Korth was recognized for 20 years of service to The University of Texas Athletics Department. He was busy working, as he has done every day, even when doctors gave him little chance of survival. Somebody way bigger than us or the doctors has been in charge of Mike's "time clock," and right now we are all celebrating his reasonably good health.
The next time Jimmie McDowell decides to have another "Banquet of Champions," Chip, Bianco and all of us would be on the front row if he decides to honor Mike Korth.
We celebrate with Chip, with John, and with Mike, because they give us a chance to realize that there are dozens of people at Texas, and thousands throughout the country, who don't get the big salaries you hear about, and their dollars-to-hours ratio will never be reconciled. They work because they care about the kids, and they take pride in a job well done.
And Jimmie McDowell is a good person for taking time to recognize that.