Nov. 16, 2006
DALLAS (AP) -A booster's unusual ultimatum has placed the University of North Texas in an awkward position: Rename its new athletic facility after the just-fired football coach or allow the donor's $1 million gift to be redirected to the music department.
To keep the peace, and perhaps keep open the big-money pipeline, school officials say they will honor the odd request from Houston furniture magnate Jim McIngvale - known locally as "Mattress Mack" for his goofy TV and radio spots.
Thus, the McIngvale Practice Facility will get renamed for Darrell Dickey, who was fired last week. No timeline for the renaming is set.
A school spokeswoman cited school policy, which states that a facility "may be named in keeping with the wishes of the donor."
It was either rename it, McIngvale said, or redirect his money to the acclaimed One O'Clock Lab Band, the showpiece at one of the country's top music schools. Mattress Mack was serious enough to take out a one-page ad Sunday in the Denton Record-Chronicle explaining his demand.
"Right's right and wrong's wrong. It's the right thing to do," McIngvale said. "I don't think firing a guy three weeks after he had a heart attack was the right thing to do, either. Even Wall Street is not that callous."
Dickey suffered a heart attack Oct. 12.
McIngvale admits his demand is largely symbolic, as his donation was made two years ago and already spent. He made it out of frustration with Dickey's firing and what he said is a lack of adequate athletics funding from the school.
The school's capitulation underscores the influence held by boosters bearing checkbooks, such as T. Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State and the late Ralph Engelstad at the University of North Dakota. McIngvale's $1 million gift means a lot at North Texas, where the football program's budget is about $3.7 million and the music school's is about $8.7 million.
It placed the school in the strange position of defending the record of the coach it just fired. Athletics Director Rick Villarreal talked about "the number of good things" accomplished by Dickey, including four straight Sun Belt championships and bowl appearances.
The Mean Green went 2-9 last season and 3-7 in 2006. Dickey is 42-62 overall.
Dickey, who was under contract through 2009 and will receive a $560,000 buyout, did not respond to telephone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Last year at Oklahoma State, Pickens donated $165 million to the athletics department. At least publicly, Pickens' gift has come without conditions.
That wasn't the case when Engelstad built a $104 million hockey arena at North Dakota - and then threatened to stop construction if the school gave into NCAA demands to change its mascot from the Fighting Sioux.
Money-hungry programs are rarely in a position to turn down boosters, said Rudy Davalos, the recently retired athletics director at the University of New Mexico. When Davalos ran the University of Houston athletics department 15 years ago, he received a $32 million, no-strings-attached donation from businessman John Moores.
"If he would have told me that he wasn't going to give the money unless we named something after him, rest assured we would have named something after him," Davalos said.