JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
But since retiring from that top job at the University of Texas in November, you can call him something else.
“Call me the happiest man in the country,” he said as he invited guests into his sitting area.
Only the white shirt he is wearing complete with a burnt orange Longhorns logo gives a hint to how Dodds made his living for three decades, guiding the nation’s top revenue-grossing athletic department.
Dodds, who has been serving as special assistant to the university president since November, said he had been contemplating retirement for three years. He found himself arriving to the office later and later and leaving earlier. The only projects he took were the ones that really interested him, he said.
Dodds has the same easy-going manner he has always possessed. As he sat down, he put his feet up on a table to reflect on his career, share special memories and talk about his time away from the Forty Acres.
He said he was not offered another job during the three decades he guided the Longhorns.
“Because it’s Texas,” he said, referring to the belief there’s no better athletic department in the nation.
When he took over as the Longhorns’ athletic director on Aug. 14, 1981, the department employed 70 workers. When he left, it had 350.
Texas led the nation this past year in total revenue with $165,691,486. It is one of seven athletic departments in the nation not to receive a subsidy from its university.
The perception is that fans are only interested in check marks in the win column. Dodds said that’s only part of it. As he attended more games and functions, he realized fans wanted more balance in the student-athletes.
“I think our fans early on were worried about winning,” he said. “Now, they’re interested in the academic side, they’re interested in good kids. I think they’re better fans.”
Before he became the sixth athletic director at Texas, Dodds held the same position at Kansas State University, his alma mater. He was a Big 8 Conference champion in the quarter-mile in 1959, the same year he graduated with a degree in physical education. He later became the head track coach of the Wildcats in 1963. He held that position until 1977, when he became KSU’s athletic director.
He was on a trip to Louisiana State University in 1980 when word spread that Texas was looking for a new athletic director.
“Bill Ellington retired,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s the best job in America.'”
The only other job that interested him, he said, was athletic director at Alabama.
But Dodds didn’t wholeheartedly go after the position in Austin, not until he received a call from Athletics Council chairman Tom Morgan.
“We’re going to Colorado,” Dodds recalled Morgan saying when he received the call in Kansas, “and we’d like to see you on the way.”
Dodds still chuckles at that since Kansas is most definitely not on the way Colorado.
Surprisingly, Dodds turned down the “best job in America” the first time it was offered, he said. But the Longhorns have always been persistent. So when another member of the committee called him and the two spoke for a couple of hours, Dodds said he turned to his wife, Mary Ann, and said, “We got to do the Texas thing.”
Thirty years later, Dodds still grins as he recalled being asked about contributing to a retirement fund after taking the job.
“I’ll never be there 10 years,” he said at the time. “I’ll do the optional.”
He said college athletics underwent many changes in his early years, and he is pleased Texas was able to triple its budget every 10 years.
A lot of that had to do with personnel, Dodds said.
“We hired good people and were able to attract good coaches,” he said.
Asked to pick one moment as his favorite — and he had to think about it — he said it would be Jan. 4, 2006, when then-head football coach Mack Brown delivered his post-game speech after the Longhorns defeated Southern California for the 2005 national title.
Brown told his players not to let winning a football game be the greatest thing that happened to them.
“That was a defining moment for all of athletics,” Dodds said.
The former athletic director was usually standing in the right place at the right time for the Longhorns’ best wins. He was under the goal posts when Dusty Magnum kicked the field goal that won the 2004 Rose Bowl and remembers former quarterback Vince Young running toward him when Texas won that 2005 national championship.
His favorite sport to attend is Longhorn baseball because it allows him to be social. However, his favorite contest is the annual Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl, where he meets up with one of his greatest friends, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione. The two joke that they would prefer their fan bases not know the mutual admiration and love they have for each other.
“We’ve been through a lot of things together,” Dodds said.
The biggest of those “things” was the major shift of the Big 12 Conference when it lost Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M to the Pacific 12, Big 10 and Southeastern conferences.
Dodds and Castiglione worked together to keep the Big 12 alive and supported inviting West Virginia and Texas Christian into the league.
As far as rivalries go, Dodds is still disappointed that Texas A&M is no longer part of the Big 12.
“That really bothered me,” he said. “That rivalry was really special to me. They took the best deal they could take. The first person that asked them to dance, they danced.”
Back at his Marble Falls home is a reading room where a dozen balls, countless photos and numerous books line three of the four walls. It’s the only room in the home with any Texas memorabilia. Dodds said he looks forward to having the time to read for leisure again.
He is known for his culinary skills, often inviting people over for a steak he personally marinates or to try new pasta dishes. He mows the grass of the 13-acre home, and he and his wife have seven grandchildren with whom they simply can’t spend enough time.
Texas won 21 national championships and 103 conference titles with Dodds as the athletic director.
And yet those numbers are not how he defines his legacy.
To Dodds, it’s about knowing he has helped countless people — from employees to student-athletes — build better lives for themselves. So when he thinks about what he misses most, it’s rarely his daily duties.
“They’re friends,” he said. “I miss the relationships with people on a day-to-day basis. It’s about people and relationships. Bottom line is it’s always been about kids. That’s what it’s all about.”