If the downfall of former University of Texas at Austin athletics director Steve Patterson was hastened by his troubled relationships with fans, boosters and campus leaders, his new replacement will take over the job in a much safer position. In that regard, Mike Perrin is the anti-Patterson.
Perrin, who was appointed interim athletics director on Tuesday and formally introduced Wednesday, has spent decades growing bonds with people all across UT-Austin. He’s a former UT football player who was already friends with Longhorn coaches, administrators and donors. And he and his wife have held numerous leadership roles in athletics groups, academic committees and university support organizations across the state.
“I generally know somebody in every town and every county, and I have made myself available in that regard,” he said.
He added, “I am going to draw upon every relationship that I have.”
Those bonds are one of the main reasons Perrin got the job. Stories about Patterson’s strained relationships were common in recent months. There were reports of key donors threatening to withdraw their support. Many fans were furious about increased football ticket prices. And some Longhorn supporters expressed worry about Patterson’s perceived unwillingness to schmooze with important fans.
That was a far cry from Patterson’s predecessor, DeLoss Dodds, who was legendary for his ability to cultivate relationships with important people inside and outside the Longhorn community. UT-Austin President Greg Fenves invoked that skill when he introduced Perrin on Wednesday at a news conference.
“That is very important to me,” Fenves said. “That is part of the culture of the University of Texas.”
Perrin can make sure that remains true, Fenves said.
“His family is multi-generational Longhorn fans,” he said. “It was an important factor in me asking Mike to serve in this role.”
Perrin has been involved with the school for more than 50 years. He was a mathematics major as an undergrad and played linebacker and defensive end for legendary Longhorn football coach Darrell Royal from 1966 to 1968.
He has spent his career as a plaintiff’s attorney in Houston, but remained involved in the athletics community. He worked as a volunteer adviser to the department for more than 30 years and served on the school’s Council for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. In 2010, he was inducted into the Men’s Hall of Honor for athletics.
On the academic side, he has led fundraising drives for the law school, from which he graduated in 1971. And he and his wife, Melinda Hill Perrin, are members of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of prominent alumni of UT-Austin and Texas A&M that advocates for the two schools. The coalition was formed in part as a response to some Gov. Rick Perry-appointed regents who sought to push through market-based higher education reforms that were deeply unpopular with faculty and some alumni. The group backed Powers and applauded the selection of Fenves as president this summer.
Fenves and Perrin have known each other since Fenves was provost of UT-Austin, a job he held before being promoted to president.
Melinda Hill Perrin, the daughter of former Texas Attorney General and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill, has been perhaps even more visible at UT-Austin. She is a member of the Coalition of Excellence’s operating committee and was chosen by members to deliver an impassioned speech to the Board of Regents during a contentious 2011 meeting. She has also chaired the Longhorn Foundation athletics fundraising group, served on the UT System’s Chancellor’s Council and was a member of the Commission of 2015, which advised university leaders on the future of the school on its 125th anniversary in 2002.
The family has contributed to other causes as well. In 1995, the Texas Cowboys service group was kicked off campus because of hazing issues. The group was in charge of firing a cannon on the football field after the Longhorns scored a touchdown. In order to keep the tradition alive, Perrin bought the cannon, known as Smokey, and leased it to another campus group for $1 per year until the suspension was lifted, according to the alumni magazine the Alcalde.
On Wednesday, Perrin cited his history with the school as a strong motivator. He said he saw the thousands of empty seats at the Longhorns’ stadium during last weekend’s home opener against Rice. As a former athlete, he knows how important it is for the players to see that they are supported, he said.
“It concerns me that fans last week voted with their feet,” he said. “I intend to reach out to the entire Longhorn nation. I have sat as a student, I have sat in the stands, I have been a donor. I want to be a source of interface with all aspects of the Longhorn nation because I want the fans to be there.”
Perrin didn’t list many specific plans other than outreach. It’s probably too late to change ticket prices this year, he said, though the school will review the prices at the end of the season.
He expressed emphatic support for head football coach Charlie Strong, who has struggled to win in his first two years on the job. Perrin said he knew Strong well before Perrin was approached to take over the interim job.
“He is the real thing in terms of humanity, dedication to education, devotion to his craft,” he said. “I consider him a personal friend, and I look forward to continuing to support him.”
The school is negotiating a new licensing and apparel contract and is involved in several lawsuits, including one filed by former women’s track coach Bev Kearney. Perrin said his experience as a litigator should be helpful in those regards.
Perrin’s contract will run through at least August 2016. He’ll be paid $750,000 per year. Fenves expressed no hurry in finding a permanent replacement, and Perrin didn’t seem to express any interest in winning that job.
“I’m not an English major,” he said, “but the term ‘interim’ is a very finite term to me.”
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/09/16/relationships-key-new-ut-austin-athletics-director/.