DeLoss Dodds didn't become the most powerful man in college football in spite of his small-town roots, his hard-scrabble upbringing and his track-coach background.
He did because of all that.
No one holds more sway in college football than the man who has been the Texas athletic director for nearly three decades. His linchpin status became obvious earlier this year when conference realignment talk was swirling, and he was at the center of the storm.
That is no surprise — Dodds, after all, has built a burnt-orange empire in Austin.
It starts with football, a program that enters this weekend's Red River Rivalry having been to a BCS bowl four of the past six seasons, but the success does not end there. Texas is a contender for national championships in almost every sport it plays. Facilities are up-to-date. Coaches are top-notch.
"We're in a good spot right now," Dodds said with a mild twang, "and we're having a great time."
Getting to that good spot hasn't been easy. The athletic department was fractured and feuding when Dodds arrived in 1981. Repairing it took foresight and fortitude.
"DeLoss is as astute a businessman as there has been in college sports," said longtime Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls. "He's elevated Texas into a Fortune 500 company that everybody wouldn't want to buy stock in."
Even the annual budget has become Texas-sized under Dodds — $136 million.
"He was thinking green long before Al Gore," Bohls quipped.
So, who is this 73-year-old CEO of Longhorn athletics?
To understand how Dodds got here, you first have to know from whence he came.
WORKING HALF THE TIME
DeLoss Dodds was born in Greeley, Colo., where his father was taking summer school classes, but he spent most of his childhood in Riley, Kan. There were short stints in other small towns in Kansas and Nebraska as his teacher mother and his principal father took different jobs, but Riley (population 600) was home.
Dodds was only 8 years old when his father died of pancreatic cancer and left his mother to raise five children on her own.
"She made things work," Dodds said. "She was the guiding light for all of us."
As a teacher who valued education, Elma Dodds wanted all of her children to attend college, and every single one of them did.
DeLoss ended up 20 miles down the road at Kansas State. He had a football scholarship there, but a knee injury forced him to concentrate on track where he became a Big Eight champion in the 440-yard dash.
Only a couple years later, he became K-State's track coach.
Coaching track had been his dream, but he soon realized he didn't want to do it forever.
"I was getting up at 6 in the morning and staying up until midnight," Dodds said. "I'm looking at the AD, and he's working in the morning and playing golf in the afternoon."
"I thought, 'Now there's a pretty good deal. He makes more than do, and he works half the time that I work.'"
After coaching for more than a decade and winning half a dozen conference titles, Dodds moved into administration. First, he was interim athletic director at K-State, then assistant commissioner at the Big Eight and finally the athletic director at K-State.
In only three years, he took an in-the-red athletic department and turned it into a money maker.
That's when Texas came calling.
'THE STANDARDS OF K-STATE'
DeLoss Dodds turned down the Longhorns the first time.
Even though Texas had been one of those schools he would've loved to played football for as a kid or coached track at as an adult, he told them that he didn't want to be their athletic director. He and wife, Mary Ann, were comfortable in Manhattan. Their family was there. Their roots were there.
They'd met in Riley when he was 6 and she was 5, for heaven's sake.
Why leave a good thing?
But when Texas came back to Dodds and asked him to reconsider, he couldn't say no again.
"We just had to grow our world a little bit," Dodds said.
Dodds knew there would be difficult days — he opted for the retirement plan that didn't require 10 years of service — but still, he had no idea of the full scope of issues at Texas. The department had not been modernized for years. The fundraising was being done by well-intentioned but disorganized alums.
Worst, though, was the fissure between fans.
On one side was the group that backed then-football coach Fred Akers. On the other side were the folks who were mad that Darrell Royal's hand-picked successor, defensive coach Mike Campbell, had been bypassed for the job.
At his first big function as athletic director, he spoke during the Houston Touchdown Club's luncheon before Texas played rival Texas A&M. The emcee introduced the Longhorns' new AD with a sneer.
"DeLoss Dodds," he said. "I've always wanted to meet the man who would transform UT athletics to the standards of Kansas State."
The snickers weren't kind.
After firing Akers as well as popular but caustic basketball coach Abe Lemons during his first year on the job, Dodds became even more of a lightning rod. Rented airplanes buzzed around the football stadium on game days with "Fire Dodds" banners flapping behind them.
Three years into his tenure, Dodds wanted out. He even talked to Alabama about its vacant athletic director job.
"Our first 10 years here were very difficult," Dodds said. "We tried to mend fences and build a revenue base."
Slowly but surely, the fences were fixed and the coffers were filled.
RUNNING A TAB AT THE DRUG STORE
DeLoss Dodds loves making money. Figuring out ways to raise funds and generate revenue is one of his passions.
"Never get tired of it," he said. "It's fun. It's a challenge."
It sure was when he first arrived at Texas. There were half a dozen booster clubs raising money for various sports. Dodds merged the groups under one umbrella — some came more willingly than others — and the Longhorn Foundation was born.
Annual giving has gone from $500,000 with those splinter groups to $37 million now.
Dodds believed revenue could be generated from merchandise and stadiums, too. Under his direction, Texas started exploring ways to cash in on everything from Longhorn paraphernalia to arena advertizing.
The final piece of the financial puzzle was conference realignment. Not the most recent reset, but rather the one in 1994. Along with then-Oklahoma athletic director Donnie Duncan, Dodds helped merge four Southwest Conference teams with the Big Eight to form college athletics' first super conference — the Big 12.
The annual revenues shared by the conference schools now exceed $130 million.
Chris Plonsky, director of women's athletics at Texas, calls Dodds a financial genius.
"He kept UT on financial straights in the toughest of times," she said. "That takes great vision. That takes great strategy."
Dodds didn't learn his business acumen from a textbook or in a class.
"I used to have to charge my chocolate milks at the drugstore," Dodds said. "Didn't have the means to pay for them.
"I learned how to respect how you use money."
That has served him well, whether it was waiting two years after he and Mary Ann were married to buy a used 1954 Chevy Bel Air when they finally had the $800 to afford it or deciding to create a financial cushion in the Texas athletic department that softens the blow when revenues slow.
The principals behind those decisions were learned by living them.
Add that his down-home amiability and his fierce resolve, and you see why DeLoss Dodds has been a success at Texas. Why he has raised the money and renovated the facilities and retained the coaches. Why some of the same folks who once wanted him fired are now honoring him with the Distinguished Service Award, the university's highest honor for a non-alum.
"The thing that makes DeLoss so great to work for is his experience and his consistency," Longhorn football coach Mack Brown said. "He's seen the business from so many different points of view and knows what it takes to win and be successful."
DeLoss Dodds learned it as a kid growing up in small-town Kansas, as a son of a single-parent household, as a coach of a non-revenue sport. Had he not come from there, he might never have gotten where he is today.
IN HIS WORDS: DELOSS DODDS
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was at the center of the conference realignment storm earlier this year. Here, in his own words, he talks about those days:
One advantage we had is that Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-10, and Chris (Plonsky, Texas director of women's athletics) and I have been friends. We were talking way, way before anything became public about conference realignment.
Obviously, the Big Ten started things. We didn't start it. The Pac-10 didn't start it. I think the Pac-10 took advantage of that time to look into what they might want to change or do differently. But we had lots of time to think about it and get ready for it, and our staff did a terrific job at looking at all the options.
I thought it was a pretty controlled time. It was a great exercise to go through -- not one I'd want to go through again.
In the end, it made us feel even better about the Big 12, the conference that we helped build and the conference that we felt good about before this all started.
We found out during the process that we had some great allies in Mike Holder and Joe Castiglione. They were strong, and they were very, very effective through all that. They are indeed friends.