How the 2002 coups rocked Aggie’s athletics

COLLEGE STATION – Twenty years ago this summer, the shakers at Texas A&M thought they had seen enough, capped off by what they considered a sickening sight of the then A&M athletic director presenting a trophy to national championship at the baseball coach of Texas on national television.

So the shakers, and even a handful of movers, began orchestrating a shake-up of A&M’s athletic department that would have Houston Symphony members nodding their heads in admiration. The idea was to clean up the so-called majors, starting at the top: the athletic director and the football, basketball and baseball coaches.

“Things had become stale,” recalls Rusty Burson, then a development officer at the 12th Man Foundation, the fundraising arm of the school’s athletic department. “Everything was moving forward.”

So A&M swung into action with its own extremely detailed, unusually harsh (but painfully accurate) internal report on chess especially among the Athletic Department’s major sports. I got a copy and along the way was invited to be a panelist on the state of A&M athletics at the 12th Man Foundation’s annual summer meeting in San Antonio in 2002.

It was admittedly a little awkward, with a handful of coaches about to be shown the way to Highway 6 in the crowd and fits of brutal honesty erupting from the stage. The real shakeup had begun in May 2002, however, when A&M chose former CIA Director Robert Gates over then-retired U.S. Senator Phil Gramm as the university’s president to succeed Ray Bowen. .

One of Gates’ first jobs at A&M was to assess the athletic department and make any changes he deemed necessary. Soon. A&M brought Gates to the 12th Man meetings at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa, although he would not be officially installed as president until early August 2002.

In a crowded ground floor of a building in the complex, an A&M official asked Gates and me to go upstairs with him for an extended visit. The official then came back downstairs. Gates seemed both relieved to escape all the revelry below, but also a little annoyed to be stuck one-on-one with a reporter.

“There’s a relationship between a successful athletic program, enthusiastic alumni and successful college fundraising, there’s no two ways about it,” Gates said at the time as he began to throw the foundations for change. “We want to succeed, but the most important thing is that we want to be clean. (And) maybe the president is setting the tone for the whole university in terms of attitude towards athletics.

Gates set the tone early on. Athletic director Wally Groff, an A&M graduate and solid accountant but barely a sports visionary, announced his resignation the same month Gates officially started.

Later that year, A&M brought in Bill Byrne from Nebraska, where he was athletic director when the Cornhuskers won several national football titles in the mid-1990s. About three months after Groff’s exit, the coach of Longtime football RC Slocum, admittedly given a rough ride on the outdated facility front, was also on the doorstep.

In December 2002, A&M turned to perhaps the hottest coach in the country at the time, Dennis Franchione of Alabama, with the idea that the Aggies would be competing for their first national title since 1939.

Within a few years, Byrne also replaced basketball coaches Peggie Gillom and Melvin Watkins and track coach Ted Nelson with Gary Blair, Billy Gillispie, and Pat Henry, respectively. Over the next decade, Byrne proved to be a solid sporting director, except for football, which was, as sport administrators like to claim, above his pay grade and selection.

Mind you, this all happened a decade before A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC, an all-new, much larger shakeup in 2012. So how did all that shaking and shaking from 20 years ago s went down for the Aggies? Like some relationships and a child’s Halloween candy haul, it’s messy and a mixed bag.

Franchione was an overall flop, kicked out of A&M in 2007 over a secret newsletter scandal but mostly because he was mediocre. Henry won several national track titles and Blair became the first A&M coach since football’s Homer Norton in 1939 to win a national title in football, men’s and women’s basketball or baseball.

The women’s hoops team won it all in 2011 under Blair, months before A&M announced it would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in July 2012. Byrne quit in May 2012 with the Aggies heading to the new league.

The grandfather and financier of all, football, has yet to win a conference title since Slocum did in 1998. Fifth-year coach Jimbo Fisher, however, led A&M to its best ranking in the Associated Press rankings since 1939 at No. 1. 4 in 2020, and its recruitment has been among the best in the country in recent years.

Men’s basketball under Gillispie and Mark Turgeon made the NCAA Tournament from 2006 to 2011 after failing from 1988 to 2005. Buzz Williams is seeking his first NCAA Tournament bid as an A&M coach who begins its fourth season.

Byrne replaced longtime baseball coach Mark Johnson with Rob Childress in 2006, and although Childress appeared in the College World Series twice in 16 seasons, he failed to win a game in Omaha, Neb. , During this period (0-4). Current A&M athletic director Ross Bjork replaced Childress with TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle a year ago, and Schlossnagle quickly doubled the Aggies’ all-time CWS wins by finishing 2-2 in Omaha this year. , his first as an Aggies coach.

So things generally improved after that 2002 shakeup that really started at San Antonio’s Hyatt Hill Country, spurred in part by boosters Neal Adams and Jerry Cox. But as roughly half a million A&M alumni will claim this summer, they can still go much better ahead – which means a real national title somewhere along the way in football, basketball- men’s ball or baseball.

The squeaky image Mad Aggies used 20 years ago to bring about change? Groff, then-Division I baseball committee chairman, presented then-Texas coach Augie Garrido with this trophy in Omaha in June 2002 near home plate in the old Rosenblatt Stadium.

“‘Old Army’ had only gotten us so far, and things weren’t right at all,” Burson recalls with a light chuckle at the old-fashioned, pre-2002 approach and revamp that resulted. “It was time to shake things up on every level, and Robert Gates had already seen enough.”

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