Episode 037 – College Football Playoff Chair and Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt
Kirby and I talk about the Bill Snyder turnaround at Kansas State, how to create a great culture and of course, whether the playoff will ever expand.
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Hey everyone and welcome to the All-Star Leader Podcast, where together we learn about leadership from the best and brightest, and keep it fun by connecting it to our passion for sports!
If you are a fan of college football our guest today will certainly be someone you have come to know over the past few months.
Kirby Hocutt is the Director of Athletics at Texas Tech University, and also serves as the chair of the College Football Playoff Committee.
We have a ton to cover so let’s get right into it. Kirby thank you so much for coming on the program!
- (Open by talking about the championship game between Clemson and Alabama which occurred days prior to the interview)
- You’re from Sherman, Texas – a midsized town about an hour north of Dallas. What was it like growing up there, and tell us about your most notable experiences with athletics.
- Sherman was a town of 30k when he lived there; small town feel but a class 5A high school
- Played HS football for two very successful coaches – G.A. Moore and John Outlaw (there’s a new documentary out about him)
- Played a HS playoff game in the old Dallas Cowboy stadium
- You then made it to Kansas State as a football student-athlete. Tell us about your recruiting process and those early experiences with Coach Bill Snyder.
- Was in Coach Snyder’s second recruiting class at Kansas State
- Sports Illustrated had recently put them on the cover as the worst football program, referring to them as Futility U
- Coach Snyder had a vision and put a great coaching staff around him; recruited small/slow guys but who were blue-collar/high character/great work ethic.
- During the in-home visit, he didn’t talk about football, talked leadership and life
- People might not remember that you joined K-State at a time when throughout the 80s it had been one of the worst football programs in all of Division I, and helped lead it to its first winning season and then first bowl game. Tell us what that was like and how you did it!
- Beating Oklahoma was huge, though not necessarily one moment
- It’s the commitment to the process
- But 1993, his junior year, they went to a bowl game for the first time since the 70s and second all-time. Copper Bowl in Tucson, AZ. Big crowd from K-State traveled to the game, and it felt like they had arrived and done something special.
- We talked with Joe Parker who you know and worked with about the advantage that comes from having been a student-athlete. How would you say that experience has helped or influenced you as you have moved into the role of Athletic Director?
- Significant impact and influence on who he his and his approach to being and AD
- Being a student-athlete is hard – meeting the academic requirements with social life and athletics; the commitment to compete in athletics at the highest level and the physical pain and stress that you go through.
- Understands what drives a coach and why they think/act how they do.
- Student-athletes are students first
- Unique feature of our education system that is so great
- (Daniel follow up on how legal employers often mention how former athletes make better attorneys)
- You began your administrative career at Kansas State then at the NCAA. What stands out to you from those early years in terms of lessons or principles that remain with you today?
- Early days with the College Football Association and working for Chuck Neinas; he never wore a watch because he loved his job so much he would work until the job was done
- Worked in marketing/promotions at K-State, and got his first glimpse at what happens behind the scenes to make it all happen
- Enlightening to understand that there were donors making contributions to allow him to have a scholarship
- At the NCAA, got to see how complex it all is; saw enforcement, legislative, endorsement, licensing/marketing
- Then Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma took him under his wing
- Then comes your long, successful stint at the University of Oklahoma working under a prior guest of the podcast Joe Castiglione. When he was on the show Joe and I talked at length about culture. What do you recall about how the culture at OU was set and emphasized day to day?
- You have to have a vision – Joe always talked about his vision for Oklahoma and returning it to its glory days
- Hire great people – Joe was a master at surrounding himself with the best people
- Trust/Accountability – Joe trusts his coaches and staff to do the right things and pursue the vision
- You’ve got to continue to emphasize each of these; and it can’t be just his vision, it must be shared by the coaches, staff and student-athletes
- (Back and forth about Bob Knight, who still lives in Lubbock and hangs around the program)
- You got your first opportunity to be an AD at the very young age of 33 at Ohio University. What was it like stepping in and leading those who were older, had more experience, and maybe looked at you as still a kid?!
- Frank Solich was/is the football coach there
- He took the approach of we’re a team and all in this together; through that passion/vision/work ethic, it’s teamwork
- Never looked at it as I’m 33 and working with an experienced, successful coach; we’re in this together and we’re going to work to move this program forward
- More of a shared buy-in rather than a top-down approach
- You then moved on to the U (Miami) before landing at Texas Tech in 2011. When it comes to your career moves, did you have a process you went through to determine whether the opportunity was the right one? The timing?
- Never spent much time thinking about the next step
- Philosophy: If I am the very best at doing what I’m doing, people will notice and I’ll have opportunities; be unique and stand out to create an incremental advantage
- Kids/family played into returning to Texas
- What was the biggest challenge facing you when you arrived at Texas Tech, and how did you go about addressing it?
- Came into a fortunate situation following the great Gerald Meyers – nothing was broken
- West Texans are humble people; the nicest people; don’t like to boast/brag; but Lubbock is the third largest city in the Big 12; second highest enrollment; has a law school and medical school; can be great; looking to change perception and start showing the country who we are
- What is the largest mistake you have made as a leader, and what did you learn from it?
- Always try to look forward yet reflect and learn from the past
- At 33 going to Ohio as the AD, looking back could have been more patience and take time to make decisions based on your own formed opinions with no distractions.
- Let’s talk a bit about the CFP.
- How would you describe your approach to leading that committee?
- It was a ton of fun; the people were amazing and developing those relationships
- How did it compare to other committees you’ve served on?
- Those committees act very, very slowly, and action taken is in the distance
- The CFP had a deadline for action each week
- This was the most respectful committee even when there was disagreement; this was more of an art than a science and it helps to have such varied viewpoints
- Did you get Joe C’s advice on handling the hot seat with the media?
- Joe had it easy only having to sit with the media once
- But college football is for the fans
- There was a story this week about some leaders in the Group of Five desiring their own playoff and championship, citing the impossibility under the current format for one of its members to crack the top four. And when you look at undefeated Western Michigan this year coming in at #14 behind a four-loss Auburn, you can see where those folks are coming from. Do you feel it is possible for a Group of Five school to compete for a top four slot under the current format? If so, how? If not, how if at all should the system adjust to allow for that scenario?
- Absolutely think it’s possible; you have to schedule appropriately and win games
- Houston had an opportunity after beating Oklahoma to do it
- Western Michigan’s non-conference wins against Minnesota and Northwestern didn’t stack up
- Would hate to see a separation
- Do you foresee a time when the field expands beyond the current four teams? If not, why not? If so, how?
- No appetite for it; four is the right number
- Asking the players to play more games is not right; it’s a violent game
- When you’re playing 12 regular season games and then a conference championship game, a semi-final and then a title game, that’s enough
- If there’s talk of a reduction of regular season games or not having conference championship games, then maybe the dialog changes
- We’re three years into a 12 year deal
- How would you describe your approach to leading that committee?
- Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Group – music
- Jonathan Davis – production
- Clint Musslewhite – voice over