Earlier today we mentioned some of the positives and problems that have come with the Larry Teis administration since his appointment by President Trauth in 2004. But there are still some other things about his track record that need to be addressed.
Shaky leadership in realignment
Some skeptics were annoyed that Texas State couldn't get a better offer than the eventually doomed WAC when it initially moved up to FBS. But the WAC was likely the only realistic option at the time no matter what Texas State's place had been on the totem pole in FCS.
The athletic department's move from the wreckage of the WAC to the Sun Belt, on the other hand, left a bad taste in many supporters' mouths. Case in point: the press conference where Texas State announced their move to the Sun Belt after the WAC's dissolution.
In addition to not having a working microphone for press questions, Larry Teis lectured the fans about attendance, openly ad-libbed about angry fans e-mailing him on a day that was supposed to be about selling Texas State's new conference, and then he ad-libbed the Q&A session. Once again, the optics weren't good.
Still, it may not be immediately obvious to someone watching the press conference with little knowledge of Texas State and what the fans went through during the breakup of the WAC as to why Teis's handling of the move didn't sit well with many diehard fans. In addition to doing a tepid and scattershot job of selling the Sun Belt in the press conference, he also never addressed supporters' main three gripes during the realignment fiasco, which were:
1. Why Texas State wasn't able to garner any real interest from C-USA and the Mountain West or get any of their representatives on campus (one of which was based in Irving),
2. Why Texas State wasn't publicly selling itself further to other conferences with more than just a PowerPoint presentation that could've been thrown together in an afternoon and eventually became the butt of jokes on message boards, and:
3. The almost total information blackout from the athletic department after the WAC imploded until enough people got angry to the point of e-mailing Larry Teis and President Trauth demanding information.
One of our athletic department sources was not confident in the least about Teis's ability to proactively sell Texas State in another round of realignment.
LT is in no position to make a stink about anything outside of what happens in Sun Belt. He carries zero weight. He knows that, too.
It'll be a tough sell (to get Texas State to another conference). Larry has to play everything just right, and I have zero confidence in that. I can think of zero times where I thought to myself, man, glad we have Larry Teis.
He gets credit for the move to WAC and Sun Belt and getting facilities built. But he really shouldn't, (the) WAC needed us, as did (the) Sun Belt. They had no other options.
Although this indictment was the most strident by far, it wasn't the only internal criticism of Teis's leadership. Perhaps there's still time for Teis to turn perceptions around, but when athletic department employees don't have confidence in an athletic director's leadership, that's a problem.
Teis has somewhat polished his public presence since 2013, as evidenced by this video released by the athletic department in March:
It's nice of him to acknowledge the vast potential Texas State University has. Teis is also absolutely right in that the athletic department does need outside help. But when Teis and his athletic department turn down friendly media coverage and not maximize opportunities to solicit outside help and build fan goodwill, he's not going to get as much of that external assistance as he wants. And if he doesn't make it easy to sell the program, then C-USA and the Mountain West aren't going to give Texas State the time of day.
Cost of Attendance Stipends
We already covered this issue in detail on our story of Texas State's finances, but his handling of it has raised more questions than answers. More transparency is needed as to what expenses would be incurred in offering cost of attendance, how much of it would come from student fees, and how much donor assistance is needed to cover those costs.
It'd also be nice if we knew why Teis's office needed a $400,000 increase in funding for Fiscal Year 2014, and what those funds were used for.
Defenders and donors
Even though he may not be the most popular man on campus, Teis is not without his defenders. One reporter that has covered Texas State for 5+ years summed up their thoughts on the TCU alum's 11 years in San Marcos as follows:
I've met the man many times since 2008 and he has never been a "pompous jerk" to me. Then I hear complaints, usually from donors who feel their $100 a year makes them school president, saying that he didn't want to move up but everybody forced [him to].
I think what they mean by "forced" him is the TXST administration set mandates for "the Drive to D1" which included needing an average attendance of 16,000 at football games. They maybe averaged 12,000. I'm sure when he said "we need more before we move up" they all threw their arms up and said "f this Dr. Know-it-all, we're moving up now!" And, as it should, the power of the people prevailed.
Don't get me wrong, I love that they (we) moved up. Best thing that could have happened for TXST (and my career). But we definitely didn't meet those requirements he set so they haven't liked him since. I'm glad they "forced" his hand but I'm also glad he still is AD.
This reporter is right in that some $100 donors on message boards do tend to occasionally tie themselves up in histrionics and have long held a grudge against Teis that borders on petty. Then again, they very much care about the program, and should not be alienated. The reporter's also onto something in that Texas State may have moved up before they were really ready for the transition, as the fanbase was starting over with a new name and identity and the athletic department was essentially built up from nothing.
The perceived shoving through of the Drive to FBS would also explain why the reaction to many longtime skeptics' anti-Teis reactions are so visceral. Fair or not, he's saddled with a reputation among many of throwing up his hands whenever he gets negative feedback and saying "whatever, don't blame me, y'all wanted this."
But he hasn't done much to shake that reputation, even though it wouldn't take much more than displaying an attitude of being proactive instead of defensive when interacting with the public.
Multiple sources within the athletic department also suggested that there are numerous high level donors who share concerns about Teis. However, those big fish pale in comparison to the giving potential of the Fields family, who may be the only donors with the financial means necessary to truly shake up the halls of power. As long as they continue to give to the university, Teis is likely safe from any potential donor revolt.
Why bring this up?
Aside from the oft-lampooned message board contingent, there are also many passionate, thoughtful people with legitimate concerns about Teis's leadership, and they should not be considered petty, unhinged, or harboring any delusions about their overall importance within the university. Their concerns need to be heard and addressed in a respectful and coherent manner.
It may seem a bit dated to dredge up Teis's mistakes made up to 8 years ago, but these past missteps are indicative of the longstanding problems that the athletic department has faced in connecting with fans today. It's possible that he may have learned from a few of his past mistakes, but he still hasn't done enough to bridge that disconnect.
Teis sets the tone of his department's conversation with the Bobcat community at large, and the conversation is and has been two groups stubbornly talking past each other. Texas State needs an athletic director who will patiently listen to alumni, students, and fans, and truly work together with them to improve athletics, even when they're critical. His intentions may be good, but by expecting an almost unquestioning, one-way relationship with supporters, little progress will be made.
Constructive criticisms--regardless of whether they're public or behind closed doors--are an opportunity for learning and positive outreach. Poorly constructed and uninformed criticisms may be annoying, but at worst they should be tolerated and/or ignored instead of being used as ammunition to paint an entire fanbase as spoiled. Most Texas State fans aren't expecting an Access Bowl or a Big 12 invite straight out of the gate, but they do expect an FBS athletic director and athletic department to look the part and to raise expectations instead of offering excuses when things don't go to plan.
So has Teis earned his raises? That's ultimately up to President Trauth to decide. There is something to be said for increasing athletic director salaries and resources so a higher caliber of athletic director can be attracted after Teis moves on, whenever that might be.
But students and alumni who have given student fees and donations that help fund his salary certainly have reasons to start asking some hard questions about how their money is being spent.
In our next installment of the state of Texas State Athletics series, we'll talk to students and alumni and get their candid thoughts on how the Drive to FBS has gone.