The Business of TCU Athletics

Jeremiah Donati, Director of Athletics, Texas Christian University

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Jeremiah Donati was appointed as TCU’s director of intercollegiate athletics on December 11, 2017. Previously the Horned Frogs’ deputy athletics director, Donati became the eighth director of intercollegiate athletics in TCU’s history.

Since his arrival at TCU in 2011, Donati has played a major role in enhancing the TCU student-athlete experience through donor-supported facility upgrades totaling nearly $500 million. The most recent project is the $40 million Athletics Human Performance Center Renovation and Expansion project with construction targeted to begin in early 2024.

Under Donati, the TCU Athletics program has grown to 22 sports, the most in the Big 12 Conference, with the January 2020 announcement of the addition of women’s triathlon which will begin competition in Fall 2023. Donati oversees a coaching staff that has totaled 18 National Coach of the Year honors, including 10 by Sonny Dykes in 2022.  

Donati has also overseen record levels of donor support in Frog Club annual giving and overall athletics giving. The three highest totals in overall athletics giving at TCU came in the four years he oversaw fundraising in the Frog Club. Additionally, TCU reached record leve

Jeremiah Donati runs the business of athletic director at TCU. He shares the art of fundraising $500 million, the changing rules of the NIL, and how his leadership style helps hold people accountable. With 22 sports programs to oversee Jeremiah’s leadership experience is vast and valuable. You will enjoy this great conversation with Jeremiah Donati. 

Talking Points:

{02:15} Becoming an AD at a major university.

{05:00} The business behind the AD job  

{11:00} The art of fundraising

{16:00} The changing rules of NIL

{24:30} Jeremiah’s leadership style

{32:05} Holding people accountable.

{35:20} Hiring and firing.

Welcome, welcome to the Talent Empowerment Podcast, where we support business transformation and share the stories of great CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all backgrounds. So you can borrow their vision, their tools, and their tactics to lift up your organization, and your teams. And your community.

I'm your host, Tom Finn, and on the show today we have the director of intercollegiate athletics. For Texas Christian University or the TCU Horned Frogs, Jeremiah Donati.  Jeremiah, thrilled to have you on the show. Welcome, my friend.  

Thanks for having me. Good to be with you.  

Well, if you haven't had the chance to meet or be introduced to Jeremiah, let me take a minute to get you all acquainted. Jeremiah was appointed as TCU's director of intercollegiate athletics in December of 2017 and previously served as the deputy athletics director and became the 8th Director of Intercollegiate Athletics in TCU's history. Now, during his time at TCU. He's overseen fundraising efforts that exceed $500 million. That's a big number.

Under his leadership, the TCU Athletics program has grown to 22 sports, the most in the Big 12 conference. And if you aren't sure what the role entails, one of the core competencies is to oversee the coaching staff, for those 22 sports, which has seen 18 national coach of the Year honors, including ten by Sonny Dykes in 2022.

2022 also marked a big win in the Fiesta Bowl for you football fanatics out there, and a trip to the national championship game with more than 500 student-athletes in the program, they've recently recorded one of the top aggregate GPA's since the tracking began. Excellence in academics and athletics is an important part of Jeremiah's leadership.

And if you want to know what he did before he became an athletics director at TCU. He was with Lee Steinberg Sports and Entertainment as general counsel and director of player representation, and he has extensive experience in professional and intercollegiate athletics, including fundraising positions with the University of Arizona, Washington State, and Cal Poly.

Jeremiah, what an impressive track record. But we've got to jump right in and ask the straightforward question of, Director of intercollegiate athletics how do you do that?

How do you become an AD at a major university?

Well, good question and there are probably a lot of ways to do it. I probably took the unconventional route. You'd mentioned it. I come from a legal background, but it is really Co sports and entertainment based, and always wanted to be back in college athletics and really got some good advice from a mentor of mine, a guy named Jim Livengood, about going to law school. That would better Suit me to being in this role.

A long time ago, athletic directors were typically former coaches, and he said there's a trend that most ADs now are getting their MBAs or even their JDs or just doctorates. And that really changed my mind set to think about this differently.

So, I went to law school, most fortunate to make some contacts there.  I was a kind of starving lawyer coming out of law school working in pro sports and in downtown Los Angeles, and ultimately found my way to TCU through a client of mine.

I represented Chris Del Conte, who is now the AD at Texas, and he offered me an unbelievable opportunity to come here as a young fundraiser to oversee the fundraising efforts; luck was on my side, and had made the appropriate contacts and relationships that when Chris moved on to Texas, I was promoted in 2017, as you mentioned.

So, my roots are a little different, I didn't necessarily come up through college athletics but had spent enough time on campuses where I kind of knew what I was doing. I grew up in Washington State University in Pullman, running around that athletic department, so I really knew what I was getting into and really knew that this was my passion, what I wanted to do. So I took a lot of risks along the way to get here. That's kind of my journey to the chair, so to speak.

And the way I think about the athletics director is the CEO of the Universities athletics department is that the way to think about it is that the role that you play?

Yeah, absolutely. You know, here we have 250 full-time employees, and another 500 to 525 student-athletes. So essentially there's, you know, anywhere from 750 to 800 people, give or take under my purview, 22 sports as you mentioned.  

That really is probably the most accurate way to describe it. You know we have a budget of $85 million and so a lot of businesses within our business for the ticketing business from the fundraising business and so that's that. That'd be a good way to put it.  

Yeah, I think people typically think of the athletic director as shaking the hand of the head coach and hoisting the trophy and, you know, being on the sidelines and getting access to sports. But it's a lot more than that, isn't it?

I mean, there's a lot of business behind what you do every day.  

Yeah, there is and it's not all. I love the way he said it. That's not all handshakes and high-fives. Those are the fun parts of the job and certainly, we've been fortunate to have a lot of that this year. We've had a great year.

But no, I mean it's, you know we have I've got 16 direct reports. Each one of those direct reports makes up a different unit. So, from compliance to marketing to communications, fundraising, ticket operations, sponsorship, advertising and marketing. I could kind of go on and on.

There are a lot of components to the job. On one hand, you know you're one department within a larger university, TCU, but we also have an external facing department which is season ticket sales and television and all those things.

So, it's a very interesting job. There are you know a lot of translations to the legal world and a lot of things that I was brought up doing or brought through the ranks so to speak it's coming back full circle.  This is interesting because now you think with all this legislation, NILF ironically, as I used to be a sports agent. It was taboo, you could not pay players. You could not do endorsements, right?


And now not only, and I think we might talk about this later, but now not only we're talking about NIL now, not only can you do it, but you also need to do it. You're encouraged to do it. It's necessary for success, so kind of funny how this comes full circle, my legal background is finally paying off.

So anyhow, and we have so much change in our business, you know, not since 1972 and the advent of Title 9, have we really had this much change. And so, it's really kind of a watershed moment for our industry. And I'm finding that my legal background comes into play a lot more than I probably thought it was originally.  

So, if you're a young up and Comer in the market today and you're thinking you know I want to be Jeremiah when I grow up or somebody just like him.  

No one's saying that maybe like me, but no one is saying that.  

What's your advice for somebody coming up who's thinking, you know, I'd like to be in that chair, and Jeremiah took the legal route before that you had to kind of be a coach and move into that job. What do you think the next generation is going to look and feel like athletic directors?  

Well, I get that a lot of people want to get in the business and they want to understand, you know, what's your path? What should I do? I tell people this. You know there's a difference between being a sports fan and knowing the business of sports.

It's one thing to get on and you know, kind of read the articles and understand, you know, get the hot trade, the hot trade scoop or whatever it may be, but really understand the business of sports and Lee Steinberg is really the one that put me on to that.

The Sports Business Journal is kind of our trade magazine, if you will, of record and any young person that I meet with actually give them a copy of the SBJ and say read this thing front to back and you'll understand the issues that we're really facing.

So, a couple of things I would say is that. You know, while you're young, get your advanced degree, whether it's SBJ your JD or MBA, too many acronyms, and that I think will really.  It's all just to tell people there's a million people who look like you, literally and figuratively, on paper. So what are you going to do to thin the herd? Right. How are you going to separate yourself?

Well, you can self-educate, which is the SBJ Sports Business Journal. There's live trade. There are a lot of ways you can get information about our business. Networking… but I think getting that NBA and getting your JD while you're young and while you can do it before you potentially have a family, or You know a big mortgage or something like that. That's the time to do it.

Those are things that can really separate you from the pack. As you can hear, I'm a competitive guy. That's how you're going to get. That's going to move up the ranks and do that. So, you know, any kind of advantage you can get into doing those things you got to do.

So, networking is really the big thing in this business because it's kind of funny. You can't… It's hard to get a job unless you have experience, but you can't… You see where I'm going? This, but you can't get experience as you have a job. So, you have to be willing to take some risk and you know it's worth volunteering.

You know, not every sports job is with the Lakers, right? There are a lot of minor league teams. There are a lot of small colleges. There are ways to get experience that are unconventional that you can, you know, think outside the box that I did. That works for me, and I’ve also seen people do it.

So, the biggest thing is to have grit and just to get after and hustle. And there's really no secret formula. No one seemed to just get a lot of 22-year-olds to go, I mean, how do I become an ad? And I'm going well, OK. I'm 45, so there's a 23-year gap between where you are and where I am, and I was.

I'm a young, athletic director considering young. So, you know, you got a way to go. So, what are we going to do between now and then? Right. And how are we going to do it? How are you going to build your resume and how are you going to move through your career? So, you know young people these days, young people these days, you know, they want instant gratification. So, you got to try to manage expectations . Hey, this is hard work to do. This industry and you're not just going to, you know, have a good week, and be promoted. So, you got to be in it.

For the long haul. Yeah, you're speaking to the CEO and founders out there that run businesses as you do. That says the exact same thing and that the funny thing about leadership is people always want to pin it on the industry and say, well, you're a leader in this industry.

But really, Jeremiah, your approach is to be a leader and people from any industry can take similar approaches. You've got to work hard. You got to have grit; you've got to focus on getting the fundamentals down. Advanced degrees can be helpful in certain industries. As you mentioned. All of that is part of a process that people need to go through so they can get to where they want to be and unfortunately for some, it doesn't happen just overnight.

So, let's talk about money for a second because this is a really interesting topic for many. For the last few years that you've been at TCU, you spent a lot of time focused on fundraising. We said in the opening, you've raised over $500 million.

Just talk about fundraising, in the context of raising money for different projects. And how does that work at the university level?  

Well, most of that 500 million has been towards capital projects. If those that are watching may be familiar with TCU, we renovated our stadium back in 2012 and then we did a second version of it this past year, excuse me, two years ago this facility we're in, Schollmaier arena, right now where I'm talking with you. Our basketball arena we redid, which was almost 80 million. So, a lot of that 500 million, that's big capital projects.  

I think the two-phase one and phase two of the stadium, you know, is about 250 Million. So just right there. In those projects, you know you're almost at 350,000,000. So those are kind of easy to… not easy necessarily to do, but they're easy from a fundraiser standpoint, you know, what your call for supporters, right?

I mean, you've got TCU people who love TCU, TCU football, TCU basketball, and the University of the community. Whatever it is. And you’re asking them to, with all their obligations in life, give some of their hard-earned money to the university so that we can support our mission. And you said earlier excellence in academics and athletics.

And so sometimes it's really straightforward, right? Sometimes it's really easy that you give me this; you give us this and we'll be able to build that. But sometimes when you're talking about endowment giving and you're talking about, you know, what's the old saying? You know, sometimes you need to plant a seed for a tree you will never stand under. Right.

So, endowment giving is really kind of more of a long-term sustainability task that you're making from the university. So, you're asking people that love TCU; Hey, let's from a sustainability standpoint let's keep doing this, right? Let's keep building this thing. Let's make it better for future generations, future student-athletes, and future students. And so those types of tasks are different.

But really, it's just finding what people are passionate about. You know, that's the biggest thing is, you hear sometimes people call “fundraising” “Friendraising”. And I don't know if I necessarily love that term, but getting to know people. And getting to know people and what their biggest hopes and dreams as it relates to TCU are, is really the core of what we're talking about.

Because once you figure that out, then I can come to them and say, look, you know, I wouldn't come to you if this was not a really important thing. And I understand that you… It sounds as though you have an interest in helping us here or there. Whatever it may be, and that's kind of where you connect the dots, that's the fun part of the job.

The hardest part, you know, people say, I'm not in sales. Let me tell you something. I mean, you're in sales every day of your life, you know. I mean, you had to tell your wife about going to eat here, not there. You know. You had to sell someone on a concept, whether it's buying a ticket, you're, you know, selling yourself in an interview. You're constantly selling.

So fundraising is no different from that. It's just having the ability after you ask for the money to stop talking right, that's the key to fundraising; when you make the ask take… it's going to be uncomfortable, it's going to be awkward. Make the ask and then just stop talking. That is like fundraising 101.

So it's you can see I can talk about this for a long time because it's a lot of fun. It really is exciting. It's a way to kind of bring competition into our business. And so, we've really gotten after it here as a smaller school with 12,000 students, we got to do it a little differently. Right?

The University of Texas is a 100,000 seat stadium. We've got 45. So you know, if we're going to do some things to compete with them, you know, we're going to have to do a little more organically and really go up your sleeves and get after it.

So, fundraising has been a big part of our culture and you know, I'm just happy that we've been able to carry on that culture that was really started with Chris Delconte, who ironically is at Texas, so you know, he kind of flipped me to baton and I was able to take it and run with a great team.  

And I think as you're listening to this discussion, you're thinking, gosh, all of this stuff in athletics sounds like a business over and over and over and over again, right? How do we raise capital? How do we raise funds? Certainly, for young founders that are looking to raise VC capital to maybe start their next project, right?

You're going out there and you're talking about, what's important to the fund, what's important to the venture capitalists, what's important to them in terms of output and outcome, and what products can be delivered and that's exactly what you're saying.

I always see these parallels between athletics and business that are so tight, and most people think they're separated in nature. And I think what you're doing is bringing this home for all of us to say. Hey, look, we're all in sales at the end of the day, whether you like it or not. And all of this is tied together.  

What's the value proposition right in? In my case, it might be selling the ticket or a $10 million suite. You know, in the VC's case, it might be, you know, you get what I'm saying here. It's the exact same task. But just different answers.  

Yeah, well said, and let's stay on the topic of money for a second. Because, as you mentioned, there's been a lot of changes in intercollegiate athletics. And one of those major changes is the NIL.

So, can you walk us through what that feels like today? Give us an overview of NIL for those that don't understand the core concept and understand where this is going.  

So NIL is the acronym for Name Image likeness.

And so, forever the college athletes, college student-athletes were forbidden from receiving money in exchange for their autographs or, you know, photos, or just their time. Anything that you could, you know, kind of lump into that name, Image, Likeness. Anything in that bucket.

So that was strictly forbidden and there were, and there were people that lost jobs, there were schools that went on probation, and SMU went on the death penalty for paying players. Players lose eligibility and then so overnight July 1st, 2021, those rules change and now not only is name image like this permitted, it is encouraged, It's celebrated and frankly it's required if you're going to win. You know, at this level.

What a paradigm shift, right? So we went from immediately having rules that would get you in trouble to now we've got 525 entrepreneurs on our campus; because now, much like a chef or a musician or someone that just has a hot business idea. Now they can make money off their name, image, and Likeness.

And for a lot of these kids, remember, they're not going to play in the pros. This is the one moment in their life they can capitalize on their special talent at age 20 or 19 or 21, whatever may be so really an interesting moment in, you know, if someone writes the book on these 500 years from Now, this July 1, 2021, will be a very significant date.

So, you know, things changed overnight literally for us and it's something all of a sudden, it's showing up and recruiting and members like this, generally speaking, is something I'm a big fan of a former agent. This has given opportunities for young people to a lot of these people. This is additional income that is really important to them and important to their families.

And so generally speaking, it's a really good thing. I think a lot of times what we see in headlines is really more of a pay-for-play model, which is…You know… I could kind of go off on that, but generally speaking to NIL has been a really good thing. I tell you the challenge of it is the regulation of it. In other words, there are fifty sets of state rules that govern NIL.

There's no one federal rule. The NCAA has provided guidance, but not a clear rule. And so right now we find ourselves in this kind of wild west of NIL and it makes it very difficult when the state laws in Texas differ from state-to-state laws in Georgia, which you know ironically, just played in the national championship game and you've got coaches competing for recruits. And we can go about the NIL differently than they can.

And so, it creates this kind of unfair, uneven playing field if you will. And So, what you're seeing is a lot of Lawmakers and regulators trying to come together with some semblance of 1, NIL rule, and I'd love to tell you there's been great progress there, but you can see probably by the smile on my face, there hasn't really been and there's it's very difficult to get federal legislation passed, as you may know, here’s what we're looking for is stuff like in a trust protection state exemption -- state preemption excuse me, and antitrust exemptions; and those things don't come without significant trade-offs and for like in our case you're talking about student-athletes as employees. You're talking about tax-exempt status.

It's very complicated and it's very high stakes. And so, you know if we're sitting on having this visit five years from now, our world could look a whole lot different and a lot of it would be centered around the NFL. So generally speaking, it has been a really good thing for TCU.

I'm happy to say or proud to say that I think we've done a really good job of it. We've also partnered with our Business School. The new school of business is a top 25 program that has a top five entrepreneurial Program to help educate our young men and women. As I mentioned, we've got 500 plus entrepreneurs now and so are you teaching them about building their brand, about paying their taxes, about filing an LLC, about doing all those things, right? Creating, and building your brand social media.

All those things are valuable tools they can take with them after their time at TCU, and that's really the long play here is that you know, we can find ways to get you small NIL deals in a few 1000 here, now, thousand there, but you're going to go out from the business world, you're going to go into the real world and what tools can we give you what piece of the Business School can we give our student-athletes? Or more of the Business School of our student-athletes that sets the network’s future. Success well down the road; well after the time at TCU, it has expired because as the continuum goes, you know we're going to come back to them as potentially supporting the school, right?

So you want them to leave here with great tools. You want them to be successful in life. You want them to be incredibly passionate about TCU because those are the same people that I'm coming to raise $500 million with my team most of those people are alums.  

Yeah, beautifully said.

And that's a great backdrop for NIL. So, I'd just like to take a moment to apologize to all of the college football players in the 90s when I was playing NCAA college football on PlayStation without them receiving a dime. So, my sincere apologies to all of you out there in the 90s weren't getting any money.  

You don't have to apologize because there's a new lawsuit out there where they have taken legal action, class action, legal action, so they may get paid after all, so yeah, you know. Don't apologize yet.  

Well, fair, fair enough. And so as you start to think about this, what does this feel like to the individual player like help us get our head around sort of the micro impacts here? So, if I may, if I'm a volleyball player, I'm going to college. How is that different from a NIL perspective? And am I able to generate some revenue for myself, or is it really just the football team that's able to do it?  

So great question. And when this first came out, I mean, I think all of us were nervous that this was going to be the starting quarterback and the starting point guard on men's basketball and on football and that and the rest was going to be that was going to be kind of it. Right.

Well, what we found is that female athletes are getting a ton of deals, and so at TCU, in full transparency, our deals right now look like about 60% are male, and about 40% female. Now, unfortunately, and so that makes me feel really good. Because I think a lot of well-deserved deserving student-athletes are getting these types of deals, I think. The money is really more weighted on the male side. And hopefully, you know, we'll see that it balances out as a NIL starts to kind of settle in and I'll speak more about that in a moment.

But you know they're coming in now and they're looking at this as really a chance to monetize their talent. And there are some kids that are really motivated by this, and this is they're looking at schools that set up resources that help, that is going to be helpful to them to secure more deals and secure more deal flow and potentially more revenue.

You know some it's not as important, but I think just about in every single recruiting conversation, especially in kind of your big six sports. Which are your football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and volleyball those are the sports that you know are televised. And NIL comes up, what are the current student-athletes receiving? What are the opportunities you know are there, are there businesses or donors that are, you know, kind of extra motivated to help student-athletes?

And so those are things that coaches are having to be prepared to have discussions about; because while I can't facilitate a deal and guarantee Tom Finn X amount of dollars to come to TCU. I better be able to know… {Yes, he's mine.} I better be able to tell Tom Finn and his family what kind of NIL deals kids are getting in the sport that you're playing. And obviously, you know you're a big, strong football player. You look like you could still go. So, I'm guessing that was just a choice.  

Yeah, I appreciate that. I was playing flag football the other day with my 9-year-old and his flag football team, and I rolled my ankle. So, if that tells you anything about turf, by the way, beautifully designed turf. So if that tells you anything about my athletic prowess. I think I would pass, or you should pass on me coming to TCU. To help in that regard.  

To close the lid on that, it's really provided a whole set of opportunities that didn't exist before, so it's exciting. It's never been a better time to be a college athlete than right now.

I'm going to flip the coin to the other side of this because I think the business listeners are thinking OK, Jeremy, I get it from your side. I get it from the student athletes’ side. Help us understand the business side.

So, let's say you've got a CEO that's doing gosh, 50 million in revenue and they're a huge TCU supporter or any other university supporter in terms of the fact that they went to the school, they were educated there and maybe they're thinking, how do I actually help I, you know, I've got enough revenue, I've got a great team. I'd love to somehow get involved as a business owner in supporting my favorite university through NIL. How does the business side work?  

So there are all sorts of NIL deals you can do, and I would say one of the things I think that that that we didn't see enough of or I think that we're surprised, we didn't see enough of the first year of NIL or more big company, Big, Big Corp deals, and I think you're going to start to see more of that as this as the NIL Evolves.

I'll give you an example. If we're right here in DFW, for those of you who don't know TCU's in Fort Worth, TX. And so, you know, we compete with the Dallas Cowboys. You compete with the Dallas Cowboys for, you know, just attention basically and everything does not just THC, not just TCU football. But if you're going to do a NIL deal if you're going to do a sponsorship deal, DAK Prescott for example, it's going to cost you 7 figures if you're a local startup company or a business, you're going to deal with that deck, press guy, and you're going to do some commercials, or you can do social media. That's a big thing.  Doing social media posts and having this kind of heavy promotion there. It's going to cost you big time.

You do with the TCU quarterback; you're going to be able to do it much more inexpensively. There's probably a more authentic feel right because you know, as we always say we're kind of the hometown team, if you will, at Fort Worth.

So I think for a lot of business owners, there's a way to get in and do it much, much more inexpensively. Now, Fortune 500 companies, they're not going to care. As much as they can do. You know, deals with all sorts of NFL players, but I think by and large, most people you know don't run those companies right, but they want to be affiliated with athletes.

A lot of synergies and energy come with that. So, I think you can do it. We're finding these deals are being done through social media. That's how you connect with young people, the media impressions. I mean, a lot of these kids, I mean, we've got kids on our campus that have 100,000 followers, right? I mean, they're big-time influencers and guess what, they're in markets with 18, you know, really 16 to 25-year-olds, right? These kids are spending money. There you can see where this is, but this would be an attractive business model to get these people involved.

But people do all sorts of NIO deals. You know these NFTS, that's a big NFTS and technology then that's what’s going to be a big thing going forward. Do you know those? That's just really a business, I think. They're just touching the tip of the iceberg.

But, but a lot of you know, kind of your traditional car commercial, if you will, you know which is I think what people thought this was going to go. I mean, you tell me. Have you seen a car commercial with a student-athlete on there? Or even an NFL player or an NBA player? I mean pretty unusual, right?

So, this is evolving. The space is evolving, but I think business owners and marketing departments are getting really creative with how you use these talents to make these kinds of activities very authentic. So that's really exciting to me as a former agent.

And it’s fun for our student-athletes because it's cool for them. Right, they're getting a chance to really develop as young people and that's part of our mission. I mean, we're educators out here on campus, but they want to give them going back to what I said earlier, the tools to be successful when they leave here in structuring business deals and being involved and dealing with business leaders and CEO's and heads of marketing and Vice VP. That's like, you know, these are things they're going to do, they're going to start running for the rest of their life.

So I kind of answered your question. There are all sorts of ways that business owners can get involved with NIL. That's you're seeing that people are starting to get much more aggressive in their outreach. These kids have agents now, this student now can have agents now that was a big, big shift from before. And so, the deals are coming in and it's just fun to see how this is evolving to be really interesting to see where it goes in the next few years.

Well, thank you for the education and training on how that all works and for seeing both sides of the coin.

I'm interested in sort of transitioning our conversation into a kind of leadership and leadership style. And for those that don't know, Jeremiah and I have known each other for I don't know 20 years or so. And I can tell you that just sort of watching from a catbird position. I can tell you that Jeremiah has been the same guy for the last 20 years. He's always been this authentic, humble leader and has had that style when he was 20 and has that style, you know at 40/45.

But I want to hear from you, Jerry. What is your sort of guiding light when it comes to leading a team of 800 or so employees and partners in your organization?  

Well, great question and you know, I think along the way, Mike Shefsky, the former coach at Duke, said this one time that this really resonated with me. Do you know someone asked, what's your coaching style like, you know, and he paused. And he said you know what? I don't really have a style. What I've done is taken this toolbox with me and during my coaching career, I found something I like from this coach when he was in the army. I found something like this coach when I was a Bobby Knight and I've kind of made that my own.

And so, you know, I've been lucky. I mean, I've been around guys like Lee Steinberg and Jim Livengood and Crystal Conti, and Victor Boschini. I mean, I've been around some real, like legends in the business. You know and Bob Bolles, and I've had a chance to be around a lot of them, really impressive people. So I've tried to be resourceful and pick up things, and one of the things that I always appreciate about basically everybody that worked for you know, they kind of let me run and they empowered me to make decisions, to make mistakes, to take risks and I try to do that with our team. I think hopefully my executive team, which is 16 people, 16 leaders in our department would tell you that, you know, I'm not peering over their shoulder and I want to hire the best talent, let them run right. I think that's so that's a lot of listening and so.

You know, I find sometimes, especially in this business, that if you start talking too much, you're going to find yourself in pretty deep water and talk about things that you might not be best suited to talk about. I've got a director of compliance who is an expert in compliance. If I want to start doing his job, I'm going to make myself look pretty foolish because he's the resident expert. He's a subject matter expert, so I need to let him do his job. So, I'm going to be better off listening and asking him to come to me with solutions, not problems, but solutions so that I can use, you know, kind of my value set against that decision-making process.

You know, I think everyone that works here would tell you that I'm a good listener or that I try to listen. You know, there are times in which it's probably not a skill that you're always perfect that, but I think it's something you can always strive for and that kind of lends itself to a bigger thing, which is really communication.

I mean, I think in situations where we've had failures or were disappointed or where I've let people down. Or I've made mistakes. Most times it's the lack of communication or miscommunication, so there's never a finish line with that, but I think that's a key component of any type of leadership. You can't be an effective leader if you're not a good communicator and you're not a good listener.

I didn't give you one style. Those are things I've picked up that have been really effective for me. And, but I'd also tell you that my leadership style changes depending on the situation and depending on with. People, I have to leave right?

Some people need to see it. Some people need to see me here. Grinding it out. And in tough situations and other people you know, need to be empowered to do it on their own. And so, it kind of depends on the moment.

Yeah, I think you're right and trust and communication in leadership are two of the absolute cornerstones of what we do. Right, you've got to trust. You've got to communicate. You build that within an organization by being authentic. But I always wonder from a leadership perspective.

How do you hold people accountable? Because the other side of this coin is when your hands are off and you let people lead and you empower them, which is absolutely the right thing to do, but then you have to hold people accountable because there are some that will take advantage. How do you hold people accountable?

Well, expectation management, and this goes back to, I think your earlier question about leadership style. I think one of the most important things and you going back to you know I can point out a few things that you wish you had to do over on right. Since I've been here in this role for over 5 years now or just in my career. And you can kind of trace it back to Improperly managed expectations, so where am I going with this?

So back to accountability. If you and I know what the expectation is, right, if you don't achieve that well then it's really easy to hold people accountable. Those are easy situations, whether it's terminating employment, whether it's moving someone into a different role. Whether it's strictly just an admonishment. You know those types of kind of, you know, tangible accountability tactics if you will.

You know, if you have clear expectations, those are easy. Where it becomes difficult is when Tom thinks he's up here and he thinks he's this is, this is what we're doing. And I think it's here. And then we're way off, right? And then those things lead to other issues and potential issues down the line with our staff. And those are where you have bigger issues that start affecting the culture of your enterprise, your organization, or in our case, the T CFX department.

So those are one small thing and then I'll give you a quick example you know. I had a long conversation with an employee; a senior-level employee who was having all sorts of difficulty with an early career position and we took it all the way back to the starting date and the expectation was that this leader on our team, started making promises. Hey, you're here. We're going to elevate you here so we can get you. This outer range probably made some promises up front that we weren't, well one that we weren't aware of, or that we probably couldn't get there.

And so, this person came in thinking, hey, it's not, it's just a matter of time before I'm there. Well, that day never came right. And so, suddenly now you've got, you got friction, you've got… He doesn't trust his employer or his supervisor, you just mentioned the word trust earlier. Absolutely critical, right?

So back to expectation management, right? All these things are kind of connected, but I think that you have all the HR, you know, challenges I've seen in my day, most can be attributed back to communication and improper expectation management. I believe we preached those in just about every senior staff meeting.

We have to be sure, especially with our younger folks that are new in the business we're managing expectations and we're teaching that because. When you have clear expectations, it's really easy to hold people accountable if you don’t, that's just a really, really tricky thing to put people in positions to hold people accountable when the people around don't even know what they're technically being killed accountable for or have different ideas of it.

Yeah, I love the way you said that. Hold people accountable and have clear expectations. That's just a cornerstone of fairness in the workplace and trying to understand how to motivate people and ensure that we all have alignment as we go through the path.

So, are there any tough conversations you have to have with folks in terms of hiring and firing as the athletics director, , you've got to hold coaches accountable for performance as well?

How do you determine who to hire and fire?

Well, I think it goes back to your core values, you know, I mean, we've got high expectations here and it's you know if you follow our athletics programs, we've been in the past few years we have had to terminate some coaches and they're tough conversations to have.

But I think when you have a set of expectations, they're much easier and you can, and frankly when the expectations are clear these aren't surprises, right? Because no one likes surprises and myself included. So, you know talent acquisition is probably the most important thing that any leader of an organization really does right. I mean, we're only as good as the people we have here and the 250 people that work here... I mean, we spend a lot of time... I mean, there's nothing worse than bringing someone on board, who's not a fit for them or for the organization you become using a lot of time, a lot of human resources, and a lot of other things dealing with those issues, and that just impedes progress. It hinders advancement, it's just. It's not a good thing, right?

So, hiring people is absolutely critical. It's probably the most important thing that I do here. You know, I get a lot of credit, leaders get a lot of credit when things are going well. I don't coach. You know, it's my job to find the coaches, right? It's my job to keep the coaches and retain the coaches and so that's probably my biggest job or my most important job.

When we're not reaching that level of excellence, you know, then it becomes easier to hold those people accountable. So yes. We have had tough, tough conversations. I think any athletic director would tell you, you develop personal close personal relationships with his coaches. You get to meet them up close and personal. Their families realize their biggest hopes, dreams, and fears. And when those things don't work out, those are tough. Those are tough.

But removing the emotionalism from that is also a key part of I think leadership and being straight with people and frank. And so those conversations aren't as difficult as you make them out to be sometimes and you know like anything else you probably dread or fear those moments. But then when you kind of find yourself in them, if you've prepared, you've done the right things, you know you're able to do them fairly as you said, which I think is a big tenant of being employed here; one of the core values I always look at the situation, and what's the fair thing to do right? What's the fair thing for TCU, but what's the fair thing to do for the employee you know I can 99.9% of the time the answer to that is I can live with it.

So that's just one of about four or five things that really feel important when you are kind of going through this analysis.  

Yeah. I think one of the other items that people deal with that you've dealt with exceptionally well is this rise of CEOs and founders and athletics directors and leaders becoming public figures. And this is a big component of the job. You stand on a lot of stages, you shake a lot of hands. Back in the olden days, you might have kissed a few babies, but this is a really important part of the job as sort of your professional brand and your public image.

Tell me how you deal with that component of the job. Because it's not easy for everyone. It looks easy. But it's not easy for all.

You're too kind. it's sometimes it's the saying, you know, be careful what you wish for. You know, you know, I mean, there's, you know, I'm on social media and there's a lot of parts of their fun and there's a lot of stuff that is not so fun.

But you know that just comes with the role. I mean, it's here in Fort Worth and you know kind of everybody knows who you are. So, it probably bothers my wife more than me. When you go out to dinner and you know your meal gets hijacked by some people that want to talk about the game or you know something that's going right or not, right?

I've had quite a few moments interrupted by some folks that wanted to get some stuff off their chest that, you know, I wasn't necessarily ready for. But you know, you've always got to, you're kind of on and we like to tell our student-athletes that the jersey never comes off right and so. You know, like it or not, I mean, if you don't like it, then this isn't the business for you.

I mean, social media is not for the faint of heart, and we tell. People that you know, so Instagram. No one has a bad day on Instagram, and you know Twitter is where all the hatred lives, right? I mean, there's some ugly stuff out there and so “fan” is short for fanatic, right? So, people love sports. They love this place. The TCU fans do. And so, when you're in the public, in the limelight, or if you're a public figure, so to speak, you know, you just come with the territory.

And if you're not ready for that, this is not the business for you, because it comes at you pretty quickly and you're the deputy of athletics. Like I was or either the number 2 when I was at least Steinberg, I could kind of, you know, hang off to the side and let Chris or let Lee, you know, take on the brunt of the criticism or whatever may be. But when you're when it's when you're in that role, then it's obviously much different. You got to do it with a smile on your face, you know? There are some parts of it that feel like.

I've never been a politician. But there are parts of it that you know you, someone's always got a camera and someone's always waiting for you to catch you in that moment with your hands, your face, and your hands. After a tough loss or something.

I'll give a great example and this kind of brings this home to the listener and the viewers. You, Tom, were with me in Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl, which was an unbelievable moment, and conversely, a year with me in the national championship, which was a great moment. We were there at the game, but the game didn't go well. It was a tough loss for us and he kind of saw two sides of me, right? One was everything's going right, people are running and hugging you and you're loving it, taking pictures and the other part is you know the other parts of It, when you lose, right, and you still have to be there and you've got to show strength and you've got to be…If I'm breaking down crying and kicking things and throwing things you know what? How am I representing this university, right and how am I representing our teams and our players, our student-athletes?

And so, you know, you've got to find the High Road and sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it's hard to smile when you don't feel like smiling. Sometimes it's hard to take that call and you don't want to take that call or do what you need to do.

But it comes with the territory. You have to embrace it. I enjoy it. There are times when you feel you'd love a little more privacy, and sometimes when people start knowing too much about your kids or your family, or your vacations or things like that, it gets a little weird. But again, that just kind of comes with it. So, you just get taken in stride and keep smiling and don't let it see you.  

Well, beautifully said, and thank you for all the work that you do with these great student-athletes at TCU and the great coaches and the great administrators at the university like you said earlier, you have an incredible president at the university as well, who's helped to lead this through.

And so, thank you for the great work that you're doing to raise great people at Texas Christian University. Really appreciate it.  

Well, thanks for having me on this. Has been a lot of fun. It's just been so fun, you know, interacting with you and just watching this podcast grow. And it's just, it's fun to think that the others will watch this and. Hopefully, we'll pick up a couple of new horn frogs.  

Well, I think you're going to pick up a few more fans. You're also going to help some people with a few tactics and operational components that they can put into their own businesses.

And if somebody? I Want to continue to follow you, Jeremiah, to continue to listen to what you have to say. What would be the best way for somebody to do that?  

Oh, you know, we were just talking about social media. You know, I'm on Twitter and Instagram. Instagram is probably. Probably the best Twitter kind of gets overrun with a lot of advertisements and kind of fake DM's and all that stuff. So, Instagram would be great. Would love to hear from you.

And what's your Instagram handle, Jeremiah?  

Oh, I know you're going to ask that, JDonati_TCU.  

We'll put them in the show notes for everybody so that they can connect with you and follow along on your journey as a leader, as really CEO of TCU athletics. So, thank you again for joining us today, Jeremiah.  

Thanks for having me.  

And thank you for joining the Talent Empowerment podcast. I hope you transform your business or your athletics department by placing humans at the Center, leveraging technology at speed, and enabling innovation at scale. Let's get back to people and culture together. We'll see you in the next episode.

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