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Steve Patterson & the Power of Perception

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There's a report out from Chip Brown early this morning that paints a dire picture for Steve Patterson's future employment at the University of Texas. According to Chip, Greg Fenves is still mulling over the continued employment of Patterson, but it doesn't look good for the Revenue Maximization Robot:

Billionaire Houston trial lawyer Joe Jamail, 89, who has given tens of millions of dollars to the university and whose name is on the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as well as UT’s swim center, canceled his suite at Texas football games this year.

However, Brian Davis had this on Twitter a couple of months back:


Which of these conflicting points of view you believe will probably line up with whether you consider Chip Brown or Brian Davis a more reliable source of information(no comment), but that's not really the point I'm after; the larger issue for Patterson is that his lack of PR ability leads for stories like these to become bigger than they might otherwise be. Then again, it probably shouldn't surprise us that he's not winning the PR battle, considering he doesn't even keep the UT PR group properly staffed.

The Texas athletics communications’ office, which has 10 staff positions, currently only has five filled.

After Patterson fired Bianco, a 23-year UT employee given five minutes to access his computer before it was shut off, four other staff members have quit.

I don't know Patterson; it seems like the best-case scenario is that he's a guy that prefers to work behind the scenes and do his job quietly rather than trumpet his achievements. I could see a guy like that losing out on the public relations angle because public perception doesn't interest him. More to the point, I don't know if that's how he is. The fact that I don't know who Patterson is, that's a problem. And even if he is the aforementioned behind-the-scenes type that's not the kind of guy that generally succeeds at a job like Texas AD. My view of Patterson is a guy that prefers to sit inside his fortress of solitude, receiving all of his messages through ice crystals rather than meet another human organism in person.

The Belmont renovations are coming along nicely.

The Bellmont renovations are coming along nicely.

This perception of Patterson as Howard Hughes - barricaded in his mansion with a fully stocked mason jar collection - is further fueled by nuggets like this in Chip's report:

None of UT’s major men’s coaches report directly to Patterson. Football coach Charlie Strong, basketball coach Shaka Smart and baseball coach Augie Garrido all report to associate AD Arthur Johnson, who then relays any of their concerns to Patterson.

That's technically correct. Here's the thing: that's the way it works at most universities. I learned today that most D1 head coaches don't report directly to the AD. Patterson's clear inability and/or disinterest in defining himself publicly allows for mundane bureaucracy to be portrayed as part of a larger negative narrative by those with a sufficient ax to grind. The Texas Tech/Rice band ticket charging tempest in a teapot is another good example of Patterson not understanding the machinations of massaging a message. (Or proactivity. Or reactions to angry teapots.) The ham-handed leaks about Rick Barnes in the days prior to his resignation is a perfect example of how - even when he does show the desire to play puppeteer - he doesn't know how to pull the strings with any semblance of subtlety. We could go on and on, but the point is abundantly clear: Steve Patterson doesn't get public relations, which is a problem when you're the AD at Texas because your job is the football equivalent of being the Governor of Texas: you don't have a ton of power, your every statement gets parsed to oblivion by assholes like me everyone, and you constantly have to deal with grumpy old white guys in the oil industry because they think their donations pay for access to your cell phone number.

I was once assigned to a 1-year project in Seattle to upgrade/replace the network infrastructure for their public transportation organization. We were building out their train stations, data center infrastructure, the works. This was a big deal for my company & had a lot of eyes on it, and the sales team was hyper-sensitive about making sure it all looked 110% successful to anyone that was watching and started micro-managing every aspect of my work, down to demanding I take public transit everywhere I went "as a sign of solidarity". Being the team-oriented unifier you all know that I am, I told them I was renting a car and to leave me alone so I could focus on, you know, actually doing my job. Which is what I did; I trained the staff on our gear, offered up solutions on the fly to new problems, and took care of all the necessary dealines ahead of schedule.

I was kicked off the project 6 weeks into the gig by my own sales team.

As my girlfriend so astutely pointed out, that gig was a 90% political & 10% technical gig and I'm a 90% technical & 10% political person. Sometimes the optics matter, regardless of how well/poorly you're doing the job. Maybe Steve Patterson's simply better at the nuts & bolts of the AD job than the glad-handing; his two major coaching hires have been great, his attempts to improve the atmosphere at the Drum are solid, and people seem generally positive on his changes to the season ticket/donation process(though the price of said tickets, well...). However, he hasn't shown the ability to get out ahead of these stories, and if he doesn't make a concerted effort to either start being more transparent or at the very least hire somebody who can advocate on his behalf, his tenure on the 40 Acres is going to end faster than my infatuation with the tattooed barista at Caffe Vita. People are gunning for you and you can't ignore them any longer. Letting them control the narrative leads to this:


I imagine Fenves' private messages to Patterson at this point essentially say "either clean up your narrative or update your LinkedIn profile" because the one point that seems to be the same - regardless of the source - is that Fenves is tired of hearing about Patterson. It's now or never, Steve.