Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Perrin rewrites his legacy if he reignites Longhorns-Aggies rivalry

Posted August 11th, 2017

Mike Perrin, here’s your chance. Don’t blow it. Pick up the phone and get ‘er done.

Schedule the Aggies.

Now. Today. Maybe sooner. Do it before lunch.

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And, Mike, tell your president you’re going to do it. It should be the AD’s decision anyway. Call up Aggies AD Scott Woodward on speed dial and refuse to get off the line until the two of you have arranged a Texas-Texas A&M football game for 2020. Or earlier.

That would be substantial, first, because Perrin would forever be the guy who brought back the biggest bygone rivalry this side of Nebraska-Oklahoma or maybe Trump-Clinton, and second, he would be doing something positive and visible to make Longhorn Nation remember him. To this point, he’s dropped the ball, especially because his new coach already has strongly advocated reigniting the rivalry.

“This is just me, I haven’t run this by any of the administration,” Perrin told beat writer Brian Davis this month. “I would not want to start that game until we could consistently do it on a home-and-home basis.”

I hear that. Who needs a one-time game?

“When you look at not only the existing schedules going forward, (but) the differences between the SEC and the Big 12, that makes it difficult in the short term,” Perrin said. “I think it will be played again. It’s beyond my power to make it happen by myself, and I’m not aware of it being on anybody’s active agenda to do something right now.”

Mike, put it on your agenda. Flex your muscles.

The Aggies aren’t taking the bait so someone needs to take the lead.

“As I have said in the past, if the opportunity presents itself to play the University of Texas again,” Woodward said Friday, “we will certainly consider it, but our focus is on our football team and on our upcoming opponents.”

Perrin hasn’t exactly been front and center in his run as Longhorns men’s AD. Hidden away better than the Jefferson Davis statue, he’s been tethered too snugly to Fenves and not been allowed to grow into the role he’s been asked to fill for two years. You rarely see him and you hear him even less.

For the first 23 months of his time in Steve Patterson’s little-used chair, Perrin has largely been invisible to the media and the public. He’s yet to have one full-fledged news conference by himself, save for one at the Big 12 meetings in 2016, and he doesn’t respond to texts from reporters.

He did conduct himself admirably at that Big 12 briefing 15 months ago, coming off as forceful, authoritative, confident and in charge. And then he faded back into the background.

By remaining in the shadows, Perrin has robbed Texas and the Big 12 of an important national voice — think DeLoss Dodds — at a time when college athletics faces critical issues, including the time athletes devote to their sports, the use of their images and likenesses, improving player safety and how to adapt to the rapidly shifting television landscape. That mistake’s on both Fenves and Perrin.

Fenves has been more than comfortable with Perrin, probably too comfortable.

Texas needs the absolute best athletic director, not a caretaker. As one prominent Longhorn told me not long ago, “Don’t they know they’re the University of (expletive) Texas?”

When Fenves hires an associate dean or a physics professor, he doesn’t settle for second best. Nor should he when he hires his next AD, presumably next spring.

Some candidates who deserved a look, including Greg Byrne (Alabama), John Currie (Tennessee) and Scott Stricklin (Florida), have gone elsewhere, moving Texas to the back of the line. Fenves should look strongly at the NCAA’s Oliver Luck, TCU’s Chris Del Conte, Arkansas’s Jeff Long, Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick and OU’s Joe Castiglione.

In two years, Perrin’s achieved this:

He’s not Patterson.

He’s calmed some very rough waters.

He’s kept Fenves’ phone from ringing with complaints.

That’s not exactly glamorous résumé stuff, but he has done a few other things as well.

“Mike has been a gift for UT athletics,” said Steve Hicks, a University of Texas regent who serves as the athletic liaison on the board. “He was summoned to still waters that were not only turbulent but headed for dire consequences. We as Longhorns should always hold him in the highest regard for his contribution.”

Perrin deserves significant credit for that, plus these other positive contributions:

He gave Charlie Strong his unmitigated support at every turn, even flying to Tulsa with Fenves to acquire an offensive coordinator.

He’s given Tom Herman a virtual blank check for everything from lockers to graphics directors.

He’s avoided any hint of scandal after UT’s athletics department was ensnared by an academics-related snafu that took too long to fix.

He fired baseball coach Augie Garrido (a difficult move, but it had to be done) and hired David Pierce (a solid choice, but the jury’s still out), although he had to wait for Fenves to get back from China first. (And the process took a month because Perrin didn’t immediately go after top-of-the-list choice, Jim Schlossnagle.)

He was on board with hiring Herman, although most believe Fenves was the point man.

In truth, it appears that Fenves has all but served as the de facto men’s athletic director for the past two years, pulling strings from behind the scenes without ever meeting with the sporting press. Texas deserves better than a placeholder at athletic director.

For now, not being Patterson probably still ranks as Perrin’s No. 1 accomplishment. In 22 months, Patterson alienated most of Longhorn Nation by raising ticket prices, charging for parking, installing a loyalty program, suggesting road trips to Mexico and Dubai, insulting the City of Austin about the possibility of a joint-partnership for a basketball stadium/concert venue and assorted other sins.

Perrin’s eminently likable, but his inexperience as an athletic administrator sometimes leaves him grasping for solutions.

“I have enjoyed this job even more than I thought I would,” he said. “I knew I would like it, but I have really enjoyed it. On the other hand, it’s the president’s call, and I respect his analysis and decision going forward. We’ve not had any discussion beyond August 2018.”

Pressed about whether he wants to keep his present job longer, Perrin said, “I really can’t answer that. It just hasn’t been discussed.”

And it shouldn’t be. Perrin’s done his time and should be thanked for his work, but Texas needs a strong AD who can be a respected voice on a national stage. The university should consolidate its unique two-AD system into a single AD, move Chris Plonsky — the longtime women’s AD — to head of marketing and television and hire Perrin’s replacement sooner than later.

In the meantime, here’s a golden opportunity for Perrin. Herman’s already on board. He wants the Aggie game.

“We don’t play a rival at home ever,” he said last month during Big 12 media days. “I don’t know why we can’t play A&M as our marquee non-conference opponent.”

No good reason, anyway.

It’d be a start, Mike, as you near the finish line. Get ‘er done.

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