Steve Patterson’s two-year tenure as Texas’ athletic director is remembered as the rockiest and shortest in the modern history of the school.
But Patterson says he is excited about returning to pro sports in his new role as the president and CEO of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes announced Patterson’s hiring on Wednesday.
Austin American-Statesman reporter Brian Davis reports that Patterson has embraced the challenge of turning around the downtrodden franchise.
“It’s a new day dawning out here, a lot of excitement around where we’re headed,” Patterson said in an interview with the newspaper. “Great future for all of us.”
Patterson compiled a lengthy resume in pro sports leadership before taking a job in the athletics department at Arizona State as the chief operating officer in 2011. He became the athletic director for the Sun Devils before moving on to Texas.
Now back in the Phoenix area, Patterson will be charged with overturning a hockey franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012. Additionally, the Coyotes have been clamoring for a new arena as a way to anchor the franchise in the area.
“I think for me personally, we love the marketplace,” Patterson told the Statesman. “Yasmin [his wife] and I kept our house. We love the Valley of the Sun. I think we need to figure out an arena solution. We need to grow the business side. Those are all things that fit my skill set.”
Patterson tried to use those skills during his 22 months at Texas. As athletic director from 2013-15, Patterson overhauled the university’s ticket operations, pushed beer and wine sales, and hired coaches Charlie Strong and Shaka Smart to run the football and basketball programs, respectively. But some found his brusque leadership style unacceptable for a tradition-rich program such as the Longhorns.
Texas President Gregory L. Fenves fired Patterson in September 2015. At the time, both sides signed a non-disparagement agreement as part of the settlement. Patterson’s replacement, Mike Perrin, has been in charge of Texas athletics since.
“I’m proud of what we got done in the short period of time,” Patterson said of his time with Texas. “I’m really focused on moving forward. I hope [the Longhorns] do well. But I don’t spend a lot of time looking backward.
“We’re excited about being in Arizona again,” he added. “It’s a great state. Great community here … We’re going to have a lot of success with this franchise.”
Patterson has worked in professional hockey before, serving as president, general manager and governor of the Houston Aeros franchise. He earned the Andy Mulligan Trophy in 1995 as the International Hockey League’s executive of the year.
Patterson also served as general manager of the Houston Rockets when they claimed the NBA title in 1994. He also worked in the front office of the Houston Texans and the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Coyotes are undergoing a complete overhaul. In June, Andrew Barroway bought out all minority owners and now owns the franchise. Forbes put a $240 million price tag on the franchise. The magazine also estimated the franchise has $250 million in debt.
The Coyotes were 30-42-10 last season, finishing 12th in the Western Conference. The team recently parted ways with coach Dave Tippett, who had worked in Phoenix for eight seasons. The team hired NHL veteran Rick Tocchet, 53, to take over coaching duties as part of the franchise reboot.
Patterson said the Coyotes will stick with 28-year-old general manager John Chayka. Asked about having a GM so young, Patterson said, “Hey, I was one of those once.”
It’s unclear how the arena situation will play out. In March, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman threatened to move the franchise out of Arizona if the state legislature did not approve $225 million in new funding for an arena. At the moment, there is no viable plan.
The NHL contends the struggling franchise cannot survive financially in Glendale, Ariz. The Phoenix suburb is also home to University of Phoenix Stadium, used by the Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl. The NHL would prefer a new arena in downtown Phoenix, where the Phoenix Suns’ NBA franchise already has an arena.
The arena issue will be Patterson’s major target as he takes control of the franchise.
“I think the key for us is to make sure that we connect more broadly and deeply with the community as a whole,” he said. “Grow interest in the game of hockey, make sure they have a great fan experience, make sure they go away excited and engaged with the team.”