Top lawyers at the University of Texas System acknowledged on Wednesday that UT-Austin President Bill Powers should have been notified about a regent's discussion with an agent for University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
Last week, The Associated Press reported that Regent Wallace Hall participated in a call in January with Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton, and former UT System Regent Tom Hicks, the brother of current Regent Steve Hicks and a former owner of multiple professional sports teams. Tom Hicks then spoke with UT-Austin football coach Mack Brown to gauge his interest in retirement. Finding none, the matter was dropped.
Hall is already being closely scrutinized by lawmakers. A legislative committee is mulling whether to file articles of impeachment against him on the grounds that, among other alleged transgressions, he has overstepped his authority on some occasions.
NCAA rules and the UT System's own rules for regents both clearly indicate that decisions about athletics personnel rest with the president of an institution. During a recent appearance on YNN in Austin, Powers was asked about who would be in charge of any potential personnel changes down the line. "The athletic department is a department in the university," he said. "The athletic director reports to me. I would be not just heavily involved — that is a presidential choice."
A spokesman for Powers, who has had a tense relationship with some members of the board in recent years, and Hall in particular, says he was never informed of the Saban discussions.
"In retrospect, administration at UT-Austin should have been notified," Dan Sharphorn, vice chancellor and general counsel for the system, and Francie Frederick, general counsel to the board of regents, said in a statement provided to the Tribune. "However, the conversation was very preliminary and short lived."
The contact occurred after Hall received an unsolicited call from an intermediary regarding Saban's prospective interest in Brown's job. Hall informed Gene Powell, then-chairman of the board, and Steve Hicks, who serves as the board's athletics liaison.
"Hicks then referred the matter to Tom Hicks, who has extensive experience in athletics and professional sports, and asked Hall to call Tom Hicks," Frederick and Sharphorn explained, indicating that no further contact with Saban's agent was expressly authorized.
"No authorization to have further conversations was specifically sought, but none was needed for very preliminary discussions about a potential interest in U.T.," they wrote.
After a weak start to the football season, Brown has found himself under fire from Longhorn fans. But he has received strong support from Powers, as has Deloss Dodds, UT-Austin's athletic director.