Steve Patterson’s time as athletics director at the University of Texas at Austin will be remembered for his efforts to cut costs and raise revenues during a time of financial uncertainty in college athletics.
His exit, meanwhile, will probably bring one more big expense for Longhorn sports.
Patterson was notified Tuesday that he would be removed from his job, according to multiple sources. News of his departure was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. No official announcement has been made.
He leaves less than two years after signing a contract that pays $1.4 million per year through August 2019. He was promised a 2.5 percent raise each year and received benefits like a car allowance and a country club membership.
There was no buyout included in the deal, though the school does have the right to reassign him. A new job at UT-Austin won’t likely be an attractive option for Patterson, and negotiations about his exit were ongoing Tuesday. The sources said some kind of agreement would probably be reached by the end of the day.
UT-Austin has already spent millions in recent years paying off departing coaches or administrators. At the end of the 2013 football season, longtime coach Mack Brown was shown the door. The school eventually agreed to pay him a $2.75 million buyout and give him a one-year job as special assistant to the president. That job paid $500,000.
Under Patterson, longtime basketball coach Rick Barnes was forced to resign. The school said this spring that it would pay him $1.75 million.
Patterson is earlier in his contract than each of those two coaches. It’s unclear whether he will get all of the money in the contract. If that happens, the school will be on the hook for more than $5 million.
Buyouts are common in big-time college athletics, though it’s somewhat rare for a school to pay so many in such a short time period. If anyone can afford to pay them, it’s UT-Austin, which usually brings in the most revenue from sports in the country.
Patterson joined the Longhorns in November 2013. During his tenure, he made two high-profile and popular coaching hires – football coach Charlie Strong and basketball coach Shaka Smart. The excitement about the football hire has worn off a bit lately, as the Longhorns went 6-7 last year and lost badly to Notre Dame in the 2015 season opener.
But he also generated ire from many fans and donors for his perceived narrow focus on making money for the department. Many fans complained about increased ticket and parking prices for football games. At last weekend’s home football opener, there were many empty seats. Program insiders, meanwhile, were frustrated with personnel and management decisions, including the firing of popular Assistant Athletics Director John Bianco, who handled media relations or the football team.
Patterson also made news for seeking to grow the international brand of the Longhorns. He explored playing a football game in Mexico City and arranged to open the basketball season with a game in China.
Patterson defended his actions by noting that the department lost money in 2013-14 and was incurring increased expenses due to the cost of feeding athletes and an NCAA rule allowing universities to pay athletes on scholarship the full cost of attending school.
Fans were unconvinced, and many questioned whether he was trying to treat the tradition-laden athletics program like a business. Patterson joined UT-Austin from Arizona State, but spent most of his career in pro sports.
The UT-Austin athletics department generated $161 million in revenue in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to its NCAA financial report.
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