IRVING, Texas — TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati didn’t have to wait long to face one of his toughest tests. Six months into his tenure, one of his most important coaches had one foot out the door.
Industry insiders expected TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle to leave for Mississippi State. Mississippi State can provide some things TCU simply can’t – a bigger stadium, a larger natural fan base and nationally relevant competition to name a few. It doesn’t hurt that Mississippi State’s athletic director, John Cohen, is the former baseball coach.
That was what Donati faced as he no-commented questions about the baseball situation at his first Big 12 meetings at the Four Seasons in Irving last week. Pitching coach Kirk Sarloos also put pressure on the program after becoming the lead candidate for the Rice coaching job.
“I’ll just generally say that whatever comes from it, we’re in a position of strength and we’ll be OK,” Donati said last week.
However, few could have predicted the way Donati would recover. He stared down Mississippi State, one of the proudest baseball programs in the SEC, and persuaded Schlossnagle to stay. Days later, he signed Sarloos to a three-year extension. Both expressed excitement at the possibility of bringing a national championship to Fort Worth.
It was a coup by the 40-year-old athletic director. Despite being the youngest in the Big 12, Donati made a statement – he’s ready to play with the big boys.
Finding a mentor
Former TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte was among the most well-regarded in all of college football when he left for Texas in December 2017. However, Donati has been learning from Del Conte for a long time.
The TCU360’s Garrett Podell reported that Donati and Del Conte met when the former was just 12 years old. The fathers of both men were friends stretching back to their 20s. And as Del Conte has risen through the athletic world, he’s kept close ties to Donati. Del Conte even gave him small fundraising roles at Arizona and Cal Poly before he came to TCU.
“I owe [Chris] a ton of credit,” Donati said. “I’m forever grateful because he groomed me for the position and gave me transparency to a lot of issues that I might not have otherwise been exposed to. I was as well-seasoned and ready as I could be for the role. He’s been a great friend, great mentor and now a great colleague.”
Donati worked for a while as a sports agent and even represented Del Conte in a few negotiations. Two years after Del Conte took the TCU athletic director job, he hired Donati to a fundraising position. Two years later, he promoted Donati to an associate athletics director.
Seven years after arriving at TCU, Donati has the big chair in the corner office.
“Being in this position is a dream come true,” Donati said. “I’ve always hoped that one day I would be the athletic director here.
Donati’s background is in fundraising, but he has a tough road ahead from an administrative standpoint. The Big 12’s grant of rights is up in 2025, and the future of the league could be at stake. He’s working to build credibility in a room filled with strong athletic directors.
“This is our fourth or fifth meeting we’ve had,” Donati said. “Now with a new athletic director coming in at Kansas, I’m no longer the low man on the totem pole.”
TCU athletics is in a good place right now, but every Horned Frog fan knows how painful getting left out of the power conferences can be. The program took more than 15 years to get back to the forefront of college football; it doesn’t want to go back.
However, Donati has spent his life preparing for this role. Whether through negotiating as a member of the Steinberg Sports Agency or funneling TCU’s fundraising power into renovations at Schollmaier Arena and Amon G. Carter Stadium, Donati has proved he’s a leader.
TCU doesn’t make short-term hires. Football coach Gary Patterson has been at the school since 2000. Schlossnagle joined the program in 2003. TCU already locked up basketball coach Jamie Dixon through the 2024 season.
After persuading Schlossnagle and Sarloos to stay at TCU, it looks as if Donati is becoming the university’s next longstanding hire.