Column: Patterson creates legacy in brief time at UT

Bridget Bonasoro

The University of Texas Board of Regents will agree Thursday on a settlement for former athletic director Steve Patterson’s contract. 

Patterson irritated both boosters and fans through ticket price increases, poor communication skills and erroneous news of charging opposing teams’ bands. Despite this admittedly poor record, Patterson will still leave behind a legacy for hiring football head coach Charlie Strong and men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart — major milestones for Texas athletics.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that African-Americans could be admitted to the University, it took close to 20 years for Longhorn athletics to integrate. The refusal to integrate served as a point of pride at one juncture for many in the Longhorn community — with the celebrated 1969 Texas football team as the last all-white football team to win a national championship.

That history is why Patterson’s hiring of Strong and Smart is so remarkable. With these hirings, Strong and Smart became the first and second African-American head coaches of any men’s sport in the University’s history.

Hiring Strong was an example of equal opportunity in a sport where that isn’t always the case. Just three years ago, only 15 of the 124 Division I-A college football schools had African-American coaches. That number is in stark contrast to the racial makeup of college football players throughout the nation, over half of which are African-American.

For college basketball, the employment of Smart is less revolutionary, yet still vastly impactful. In Division I men’s basketball, African-Americans accounted for 57.2 percent of student-athletes, but only 18.6 percent of all head coaches, according to the NCAA. 

Diversity and equal opportunity are not boxes that you can check on a list of virtues. They are goals that must be continually met in order to ensure that fairness and equality are won. At the University of Texas, changing the world can’t happen by simply following in our own footsteps.

Patterson made headlines when he hired Strong and Smart. But a racially contentious past and present empowered Patterson to not only make headlines, but demonstrate that the University’s past will not control its future.