There has been plenty of criticism--some prescient, some off base--aimed at athletic department officials in the past about Texas State's lack of visibility. But the number one target of much of that criticism is right at the top of the department.
Athletic Director Larry Teis, who has held the position since 2004, has helped build Texas State's athletic department up from next to nothing. Yet he has also been a lightning rod for controversy and heated invective during much of his time in office.
Recently, another one of his many controversies arose with his dodgy answers on whether cost of attendance stipends would be offered at Texas State. Those remarks come in the context of his office being given more and more resources to work with, while Teis's personal compensation increased as well.
As we mentioned yesterday, the Office of the Athletic Director was given a $400,000+ raise in fiscal year 2014. Teis also personally received concurrent raises of 11% and 10% in FY 2014 and 2015, respectively. Student fees make up 59% of the athletic department's revenue, so it's safe to say that current Texas State students are paying a significant portion of his salary.
Has Teis really earned those increases in cash flow and resources? Let's take a look at the evidence.
The positive legacies
The Texas State athletic department in 2004 was a damn mess on par with today's dumpster fires at Rutgers and FIU. Football was 4-8, basketball was teetering on the brink of disaster, and the name change had only riled up an already fickle fanbase. Worse, coaches and athletic department officials racked up an NCAA rap sheet a mile long of mostly minor charges that added up to a dreaded "Lack of Institutional Control" charge.
The NCAA's blow was only softened by still relatively new president Denise Trauth and her crackdown on the culture of impunity within the athletic department. Larry Teis was her choice to replace athletic director Greg LaFleur (who would get in even bigger trouble years later at Southern). In some ways, the culture of the program changed instantly. Players started going to class and graduating, and a major emphasis on NCAA compliance was introduced. APR scores--no matter how flawed of a metric they might be--have been consistently improving under Teis, and that's good for stability.
Then the 2005 1-AA playoff run happened, which led to Texas State's first real experience of school spirit since the 1980's and ultimately spurred the student led Drive to FBS. Much debate exists about the role Teis played during this time. Longtime skeptics allege he was dragged, practically kicking and screaming, into making a plan for Texas State to make the jump up from D-1AA. However, one alumnus who was a movement leader at the time in ASG disputes those claims and said he actively worked with the students to make it happen.
Whatever his role, it's undoubtedly true that Teis was able to secure some major donations from the Fields family that paved the way for massive renovations of Bobcat Stadium and the baseball/softball complexes, which were key components of the eventual jump to FBS.
So when it comes to facilities and making sure athletes get a chance to take advantage of their educational opportunities, he's made great things happen. He also helped Texas State start a functioning athletic department, which is miles better than where things were a decade ago.
Teis's coaching hire record has been somewhat mixed. He's kept around solid coaches who preceded him such as volleyball's Karen Chisum and has made some respectable recent hires in Track and Field, Women's Basketball, and, depending on who you talk to, Dennis Franchione.
However, Teis also kept around a flop of a basketball coach (and a prominent donor's son) in Doug Davalos two years past his expiration date. There was also the Brad Wright hire, which was an interesting choice considering his only previous head coaching experience was in high school. Wright did help Texas State win the 2008 conference title*, but his recruiting wasn't going to be up to FBS standards and Teis unceremoniously dumped him short of his contract expiration in 2010 after a 4-8 season.
However, with all of the good things Teis has done for Texas State, there have also been numerous headaches that have come under his leadership.
Any goodwill Teis may have obtained during the 2005 season seems to have quickly evaporated in some circles. A laundry list of grievances have popped up against him since, and they primarily focus on different facets of his leadership: Bad marketing, lack of attendance at home games, a general sense of being completely out of touch with the Bobcat fanbase, and a frighteningly consistent tendency to publicly put his foot in his mouth. Attendance has especially been on a lot of fans' minds lately, and for good reason.
Although average attendance has increased during the move to FBS, getting fans in the stands has long been a problem at Texas State, and last year it was reportedly spotty enough to hurt Texas State's chances of going bowling, especially during the 2014 season.
@S_morales77 I would say what hurt more is when Bowl officials were watching, the crowds at Bobcat Stadium were thin.
— Brent Thibodeaux (@BrentThibodeaux) December 7, 2014
I'm being told the Camellia Bowl committee chose South Alabama over #TXST because fear of the Bobcat fans wouldn't travel well.
— Brent Thibodeaux (@BrentThibodeaux) December 3, 2014
The Thursday night win on ESPNU against Arkansas State in the rain and mist was particularly bad, with an official attendance of 12,264. Low attendance is not exclusively Teis's fault by any means, as there are a number of external factors that haven't helped attendance.
But instead of finding ways to be inclusive and grow the fanbase, Teis has openly criticized Texas State fans' inability to fill Bobcat Stadium in the past.
All I hear is we needed to win and play good quality opponents. Other schools are getting good support and do not necessarily live by this rule. We have to stop making excuses for why we can't attend Bobcat sporting events. They have done 2-for-1 contracts where they will go on the road for two games and get one home game. This year UTSA averaged more fans per game for their WAC opponents than we did. We just need to show up and support our team.
In an interview with the on-campus newspaper University Star back in 2013, Teis had some rather choice words about the fans when asked about how the lack of familiarity with Sun Belt schools could hurt attendance:
It only hurts attendance if you are not a football fan. Goes back to what I have said before; other schools support their teams while we look for excuses not to attend.
When it comes to the casual side of the Texas State fanbase, he's absolutely right. Many Texas State alumni in particular often use lazy excuses to not show up to football games. People do undoubtedly move on with their lives and focus on things more important than college sports, but there's not a fan culture at Texas State that encourages making Bobcat games an event to rally around. Bobcat fans not showing up to games against solid programs such as Georgia Southern and Arkansas State is especially frustrating to knowledgeable supporters and suggests a lack of sophistication within Texas State fan culture.
But this criticism from Teis missed the larger point and came off as out of touch for a few reasons.
First of all, it ignored the reality that a relatively new FBS program with four Division I programs in the area, 11 other FBS programs in the state, and plenty of other activities in Austin and San Antonio to compete with on Saturdays needs to do everything it possibly can to distinguish itself as a destination for prospective fans. The upgrades to Bobcat Stadium are excellent, and the sellout crowds for Navy and Texas Tech were shiver-inducing (in a good way), but the Texas State gameday experience in general needs a major facelift to start attracting fans en masse.
There's also the reality that Texas State is still undergoing a post-name change identity crisis with scores of alienated graduates and hasn't had a consistent tradition of winning since the 1980's, which means Teis is in no position to be criticizing and running off his own customer base, no matter how fickle they may be. This isn't Austin, where you can infuriate almost everyone on campus yet fans will keep showing up.
Instead of bashing their fans and expecting them to do the work for the athletic department, those "other schools" that "support their teams" have athletic departments that promote themselves very well to the fans and the media. UTSA, Houston, Georgia Southern, and Arkansas State are all great examples of this. The latter three programs have more of a winning tradition, and UTSA has the San Antonio media behind them, but those fanbases didn't materialize with minimal promotional effort or some sort of fantasy grassroots fan movement that popped up in a vacuum. Their athletic departments played a significant role in drumming up excitement.
How to lose friends and alienate people
Given these issues, it's often not realistic to expect Texas State fans to "just show up" for an 8 PM Thursday night game in November against UL-Monroe without a creative, aggressive, and concerted marketing effort--or a 9 win team--to sell the brand of Texas State football. But Teis apparently thinks that's a reasonable expectation:
Teis said in his June 12 Q&A that other schools' fans tailgate all over town and campus before home games, and the "athletic department should not have to create a tailgate atmosphere for people to show up."
"As I said before, fans create their own excitement. Other schools' students and fans show up to their games, set up all over town and all over campus and tailgate. Unfortunately for us, I hear we need to play Texas Tech each week and we want to tailgate 100 paces from the gate or we aren't coming."
"Our fans need to learn how to come to San Marcos, park anywhere within walking distance of the stadium, bring their own food and beverages, create a tailgate on their own and then come into the stadium."
Tailgating is one of the few things that has consistently brought Texas State alumni, fans, and students together. Yet Teis and his athletic department treated it as little more than something they can barely tolerate at best, and at worst is treated as a nuisance that keeps fans from going to games. Forcing fans to pack up their tailgates 30 minutes before the game and not allowing further tailgating during and after the game are heavy-handed measures that are far from common at big time tailgating atmospheres.
Acknowledging Bobcat Alley is a start, but other schools such as UTSA coordinate closely with fans and sponsors to create an active tailgating experience. This example of Teis dismissing tailgating belies a bigger problem, which is his athletic department often being out of touch with what fans want, and then showing a lack of ability to self-reflect when supporters do voice their desires and criticisms.
Fans are going to tailgates but not the games? Teis and the athletic department treat tailgating as the exclusive problem, not a stale gameday atmosphere. Fans start complaining that the athletic department isn't listening to their concerns? Teis, the athletic department and their apologists either insinuate or state outright that the fans are too spoiled and negative, and rarely acknowledge that there's probably a good reason why they're disgruntled in the first place. There's also Teis's apparent desire to have the fans do much of his department's work for him, especially when it comes to creating a big time gameday atmosphere, which will only embolden critics to voice their grievances publicly.
Isn't finding creative solutions to bring in fans and revenue to Bobcat Stadium as well as play a major role in creating a big time gameday atmosphere part of the job for Larry Teis and his underfunded employees? Shouldn't a challenge like connecting with the Texas State fanbase motivate him to work harder instead of throw up his hands and talk about how bad Bobcat fans are?
And if Teis and his athletic department are so worried about absent or negative fans hurting recruiting, then why are they unwittingly casting those same fans as ammo for opposing recruiters? Do they realize that public statements to local media from the official source of Texas State athletics leadership has a much higher impact on general perception and recruiting than a couple of disgruntled tailgaters or message board posters?
To his credit, Teis has been more conciliatory in tone when addressing the fans since his 2013 interview with the UStar, as he rightly commended the fanbase for attempting to sell prospective bowls on Texas State in ways few other fanbases did.
I believe all of our fans should be proud of the way you have represented Texas State during this process. I cannot begin to tell you how inspiring it is for our student-athletes, coaches and staff to see you rallying behind them during the bowl selection process. Whether it was through social media campaigns, email blitzes, phone calls or just encouraging words, I want to commend our fan base for their solidarity. Let us not lose sight of the great potential Texas State has and let us look forward to the day when the Bobcats take the field in their first bowl game in program history.
He also promised to explore ways to get fans to come to road games, and so far there has been an improved emphasis on getting fans to travel outside of San Marcos. Given the fantastic (and difficult) slate of road games this season, that's a good priority to have.
However, that attitude of "We built (the facilities), why aren't they coming?" is still prevalent in the overall lack of self promotion by the athletic department. And given that the department was still peddling the "negative fans are hurting the program" narrative to some supporters as recently as last winter, albeit in a less prominent manner, it's still unclear that Teis and his athletic department have truly learned how to cultivate and respond to an FBS fanbase yet.
We'll continue our examination of Larry Teis's leadership in our next installment.