Texas has just about every advantage and resource you could ask for. It's the biggest fish in a talent-rich state, not just for football, but for basketball too. It has a loaded donor base, their own dang TV channel, a rich history, strong facilities, and absolutely prints money. Texas doesn't really need to go without anything, and shouldn't ever enter a prolonged stretch where they struggle badly.
Of course, that's exactly what happened. The Longhorns haven't just been mediocre on the field, but the administration has been an embarrassment off of it; straining relationships with longtime ticketholders and donors, penny-pinching to the point of charging coaches to eat with students in a cafeteria, and generally becoming the poster child for bumbling egos, greed and excess among all athletic departments. In a post Dave Brandon world, only Rutgers could claim to have gotten more negative press towards an athletic department in recent memory. Realizing that administrative disfunction could compromise everything else they've tried to build, Texas wisely decided to pull the plug on the Steve Patterson era, and will be looking for a new Athletic Director.
Texas has apparently set their sights on four candidates to start: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, former Texas football coach Mack Brown, Louisville athletic director Tim Jurich, and NCAA executive VP for compliance, Oliver Luck. They'll likely use a search firm to assist in this process, and may make a few phone calls to other top ADs across the country, both for advice, and to see if other candidates may be interested.
If they do, Texas would do well to at least reach out to one of the better ADs in the country, one who is probably under appreciated by fans.
Texas should reach out to Ohio State's Gene Smith.
This isn't some ploy to get rid of Smith, somebody that many Buckeye fans haven't forgiven for his handling of the Jim Tressel resignation or the inability to predict the severe sanctions that came from it. But other than that incident, Smith really has done just about everything a fan could want from a major athletic director. As a fan, you want your program to avoid major negative headlines, hire good coaches, compete in multiple sports (but especially football and men's basketball), and raise enough money to be competitive. Ohio State has done all of those things.
Smith generally doesn't get a ton of credit for bringing in Urban Meyer, given that others were involved in that process, but he didn't screw it up, like other ADs might have done when a major coaching name wants to come home. Finding a way to get Meyer to Columbus alone would atone for a lot of other mistakes, but Smith has helped bring on multiple other successful hires.
Take wrestling, for example. All Tom Ryan (hired in 2006) has done since he came to Ohio State was elevate the program to completely new heights, leading to a national championship last season, as well as being named the NWCA coach of the year. In a rugged Big Ten conference, Buckeye wrestling has now become a national power player, and one poised to remain a contender for titles, even after the departure of program legend Logan Stieber.
Nick Meyers, Ohio State's men's lacrosse coach (hired in 2008) has also been a spectacular success. The Buckeyes don't have the institutional history, geographic proximity to elite recruits, or other resources that the blue-bloods of the sport have, but over the last few years, Ohio State has quietly become an excellent team, and one of the best in the country west of Pennsylvania. Ohio State advanced to the first Big Ten championship game last year, then knocked off regular power Duke in the NCAA Tournament, for their second bid in three years.
Kevin McGuff, Ohio State's women's basketball coach, has dramatically improved recruiting in the program, and has the Buckeyes poised to compete on a national level this season as well.
Ohio State isn't lacking for funds either, with 2014 being nearly a record breaking year for donations to the University. That also includes gifts to athletics, which is in the midst of an ambitious campaign that will create three new facilities, including new facilities for Olympic sports. If a major program suddenly finds themselves wanting for a resource or facility improvement, there's little reason to think they'll be wanting for long.
Ohio State, and Gene Smith, haven't just maintained Ohio State's strong standing, they've also been innovators and leaders. After Tat-Gate, Ohio State has assembled one of the most comprehensive and innovate compliance departments in the country, which not only can help prevent NCAA violations, but also impart additional real world skills to athletes. Ohio State, at the behest of parents of football players, was also a leader in getting the NCAA to help pay for family travel to championships.
Other ADs have been the source of some rather tone-deaf statements about the needs of student athletes, but to Smith's credit, that hasn't been the case with him. Smith hasn't been handing out union cards or anything, but more than other ADs, he seems to understand a school's need to assist athletes better than many of his peers.
Texas should have their pick from many talented administrators, but that doesn't mean this will be an easy search. Luck seemed like a shoe-in for the job before, but Texas has already turned him down once, and now Luck has a high-paying job in the same city where his son plays professional football. Going from Big 12 commissioner to Texas AD seems like a step down for Bowlsby (unless he's about to get fired), and one could argue that he hasn't exactly crowned himself with glory while leading the conference. Jurich would probably be excellent, but he's been entrenched at Louisville for so long (he practically built the place) and extracting him would be very difficult. Mack Brown has never been an AD, and the odds that he'd screw this up seem pretty high.
It may not be easy to hire Smith either. After all, he recently earned a promotion to University Vice President, giving him both a contract extension and the ability to work on other university projects. Smith has been in the midwest for a long time, doesn't really have ties to Texas, and at 58, has said he plans to "make Ohio State his last stop before retirement", per the Columbus Dispatch. The university is very happy with him, and Smith appears happy to be there too. Plus, per the Austin American-Statesman, Texas considered Smith back in 2013, but he didn't make the "short list".
There just aren't very many universities that have athletic departments comparable to the size, scope and complexity of Texas. Ohio State is one of them, and few other administrators have that experience and track record.
I know Buckeye fans may not love the guy, but a quick look around the country ought to make them a little more grateful. For all of his faults, Smith has done just about everything you'd want an AD to do, and things could get so, so much worse.
Just ask Texas. And if Texas wants to get back to being Texas, they ought to reach out to somebody who has experience in making places like Texas succeed. If nothing else, they ought to at least give Gene Smith a phone call.