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Texas A&M regent proposes renaming Kyle Field ‘The house that Johnny built'

On May 12, 2014, local CBS affiliate KBTX-TV broadcast the words of Texas A&M Chairman of the Board of Regents, Jim Schwertner, whose speech was recorded at a news conference today at Kyle Field. Schwertner proffered an official statement and shared his hope that the “Aggie Nation” would at some point consider renaming Kyle Field as “Kyle Field, the house that Johnny built.” He was serious.

Jim Schwertner, Chairman of the Texas A&M Board of Regents, suggests renaming Kyle Field for Johnny
Texas A&M System photo, Regents web site

The comment was made at the “topping off” ceremony for the current phase of Kyle Field redevelopment, which took place Monday before the rains came down in the Brazos Valley. Schwertner’s first statement was about the least erudite phrase the leader of one of the nation’s most prestigious research universities could say: “You know the stars came together…we talked about this project for a long, long time, but none of us were sure how quickly we could pay for this project.”

Yes, it took nine people to discuss a $450,000,000 renovation project and voted to go ahead without being sure how quickly they could pay for it. Good times in Aggieland, SEC style. It takes money to make money, and the move to the SEC has found Aggieland behind the curve in being able to seat all our new guests. Wisely the regents voted to embark on a major fund-raising campaign and since every Aggie loves football, the checkbooks flew open. Aggies were delighted to be a part of the most exciting athletic juggernaut in years since the Aggies beat the University of Texas way back when.

But wait, there’s more, as Schwertner’s speech continued. With a mixed air of gravity and slight joy, he said, “And because of a young man by the name of Johnny Manziel, we were able to raise all the money in two months. My vision is someday I hope that the Aggie Nation will come together and decide that we can revise the name of Kyle Field to Kyle Field, the house that Johnny built. Thank you.” His vision.

As Schwertner concluded his remarks, with a self-satisfied air, he picked up his papers from the podium and extended an outreached hand toward the system’s chief executive officer, TAMU Chancellor John Sharp, who shook it. As he came to the podium, grinning slyly, Sharp said, “I bet you make some press on that one.”

A quick check of the official Texas A&M regents bio page showed that Schwertner is a 1974 graduate of Texas Tech University, which explains how it would be that he could think to use the phrase “Aggie Nation.” It’s a dead giveaway that “you’re not from here” when you say “the Aggie Nation.”. Texas A&M is a family of current and former students and not a nation, not a country, and not a village. It is a family. Minus one, for the Regents Chairman, Mr. Malaprop. So, what else do we know about Schwertner’s qualifications to lead, guide and direct?

As President and CEO of Schwertner Farms, dba Capitol Land & Livestock, Chairman Schwertner heads his own financial institution. Among other philanthropic and business things he’s involved in, he’s Chairman of the Board of Schwertner State Bank, in Schwertner, Texas. Founded in 1912, the bank has two locations, Schwertner, Texas and Jarrell, Texas; the statement of condition is found online. The population of Schwertner was 150 in 2000, and Jarrell’s population per the 2000 census is 984. So, he’s a bona fide business success, but he’s not an Aggie.

Obviously Chairman Schwertner is also unfamiliar with Edwin J. Kyle, who served as Dean of Agriculture for Texas A&M, as well as the athletic council president. At the time, the university wouldn’t give money for an athletic field (probably some misguided priority on academics), so Kyle donated land and his own money to buy covered grandstands and build wooden bleachers for people to watch the events. This was in 1904. That’s all part of the vast legends of Aggieland which the (real) members of the Aggie 12th Man learn at fish camp, or on campus while they’re in school. Or, if you have a few minutes, you can catch up on Wikipedia and learn a little about the history of Kyle Field, contributed by Aggies, or on the official Aggie web site.

Aggies know that you just don’t go around renaming things on campus or suggesting you go around renaming things on campus. However, a dangerous precedent was set and the door was opened with the philanthropic Catch-22 over at the baseball place. The renamed Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park was the compromise, because the tremendous Kruse family (Aggies) whose business is an Aggie favorite around the country (Blue Bell) gave substantial dollars to build up and expand the field and stadium into a real baseball park.

Yet the field was named for the most successful (and generous donor) C. E. Pat Olsen, so a compromise was reached that made the folks in development really happy and didn’t have all the former students on the list firing up their Winnebago’s to head up to the campus to talk to the chief head-knockers in charge, to inquire about “where their heads were at,” as Aggies sometimes want to do, when you dare suggest messing with tradition. But you have to be an Aggie to know that’s how things are done here.

Texas A&M has had a string of tremendous football players (and nationally acclaimed athletes in sports, e.g., Olympians, professional sports players, etc.) other than football cross its portals as well as cross the graduation stages at G. Rollie White Coliseum in the old days and Reed Arena these days. Many players have made Texas A&M a destination university for athletic excellence—their achievements have brought honor to the university and sometimes their actions have brought close scrutiny on A&M as well. That’s the nature of college sports these days.

But, to suggest renaming Kyle Field to “Kyle Field, the House that Johnny Built” is a mindset of childlike exuberance at the excitement of a very special and talented young 21-year-old man, who played two seasons of unforgettable football here, won the Heisman Trophy and was drafted in the first round of the 2014 Draft. That’s fantastic news for Aggies everywhere, no doubt about it.

But what about the offensive tackle, Jake Matthews, who blocked for him? What about the receiver, Mike Evans, who caught the passes he threw? What about the eight other players who signed NFL contracts? What are you going to name or rename for them? It’s called the 12th Man for a reason, Chairman Schwertner. There is no “I” in team, and Kyle Field needs to be improved and the traditions remain undisturbed by everyone, particularly for those who haven’t had the chance to study here, to try and work three jobs to pay for tuition here, and who love traditions as much as they love this university. Some things you simply need to leave well enough alone. Who is this chairman again? How much influence does he have?

Check online and learn that the Texas A&M University System, “one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a statewide network of 11 universities, seven state agencies, two service unites and a comprehensive health science center.”

How many people are affected by the leadership of Texas A&M’s Board of Regents? From the same source, “A&M System members educate more than 131,000 students and reach another 22 million people through service each year. With more than 24,000 faculty and staff, the A&M System has a physical presence in 250 of the state’s 254 counties and a programmatic presence in every one. In 2012, externally funded research expenditures exceeded $820 million to help drive the state’s economy.”

When another Texas A&M regent, very successful attorney Anthony Buzbee (a real Aggie former student), who won the largest jury verdict against British Petroleum (reportedly over $1 billion), took out 12 billboards for his personal campaign for the Houston Texans to draft Johnny Manziel, it was his own money, his own judgment and he was not acting as a regent when he did that.

However, it did cause quite a bit of public scrutiny back at the Regents Headquarters to know that this same man helping to lead Texas A&M is one who the Houston Chronicle’s Randy Harvey (quoting the New York Times) describes “Buzbee’s courtroom demeanor as “mean, tenacious and fire-breathing.” Well, that’s all good. He’s an Aggie and he’s a Marine and it’s a safe bet that you wouldn’t find him suggesting renaming Kyle Field.

Based on personally watching, for four decades, Texas A&M leadership appointed by Texas governors, to a person, possess either extensive business acumen, or leadership skills that have taken men and women to the top of their respective fields of achievement, or they’ve made substantial financial contributions to the governor’s political campaigns.

This, by the way, is the same group of regents who, on May 9, 2014, as reported by the Texas Tribune, "announced a hiring freeze among non-faculty administrative employees that's intended to cut costs and redirect money toward academics system-wide." Chancellor John Sharp said, "This represents an opportunity for our leaders to reevaluate their ability to focus more resources on their core deliverables of teaching and research while containing other non-core expenses."

For decades there's been a fixed amount of "dead wood" at Texas A&M, including some tenured faculty members who have become an impediment to departmental leaders to have to "buy out" to get them to retire (you've all known at least one department like that, you know it). Further, you don't have to have a M.Ed. in Educational Administration to know that "they'll" cut two secretarial positions one day for cost savings while the regents recommend hiring institutional leaders such as Guy Diedrich as Vice Chancellor of Federal and State Relations for $300,000 a year, for the past, say, 10 years, simply because the governor shares his greatest wish that the university find value and worth in his wisdom.

It doesn’t matter what party has been in power in the state, campaign contributions are generally the overarching descriptor that will peg a regent of virtually any state university. If you are a prized top tier donor to the governor’s campaign, you can be a regent. Everyone knows that’s the way the world works in the political purgatory of Texas politics filled with capitol characters. The relevance to Kyle Field and the ludicrous suggestion to rename it is that it's those very same regents who facilitate those freezes and attrition to happen who then make statements about how they worried at first that they couldn't pay for a $450,000,000 renovation to bring yet more income to athletics and were surprised and thrilled to see that it happened so fast.

Only in Texas, though, do the regents seem to find their way, often, onto the pages of Texas Monthly, or the Texas Tribune. One can only wish Molly Ivins were still among us; at least there’s still the Twitter account for the Rick Perry Daily for gentle humor and smiles.

Texas A&M is Rick Perry’s alma mater. Everyone knows that; even the folks at the CBS Morning News know this. He’s proud of his Aggie heritage and service to the university as a yell leader while enrolled as a student. He is proud of his service to Texas as a three-term governor. But, the havoc Gov. Perry has wreaked on Texas A&M in appointing various regents with the lack of understanding of what it means to be an Aggie, takes the proverbial cake in this group’s poignantly lopsided attention span being focused entirely on “football and some other stuff.”

On May 5, the Aggie Regents just raised tuition an approximate $250 more per semester and reported A&M system spokesman Steven Moore as saying, “Texas A&M is only surpassed by a few schools nationally as a best value for a national public university.” Really? What does a Texas A&M degree mean these days when the highest leadership can say things like “rename Kyle Field” and “Aggie Nation” and more importantly, who is it in the country who wants to apply for and be considered as President of Texas A&M, currently an open spot on the Aggie dance card because of press precisely like this.

Years ago, Texas A&M was led by Chancellor M. T. (Tom) Harrington, President Dr. Jack K. Williams, General Earl Rudder, and their caliber of leadership. Not all that long ago Dr. Robert M. Gates (former head of the CIA and recent author of “Duty”) headed up the place. It’s scary to think who the next Aggie President will be. Athletics are a vital and truly delightful aspect of university daily life, for students, faculty, staff and former students alike. But the day and time has come where people need to understand that Texas A&M’s reputation is not enhanced when Aggie traditions are so cavalierly considered as the penultimate territory and private property of the Texas A&M Board of Regents.

Yes, Chairman’s Schwertner’s remarks have already gotten a lot of press, per Chancellor Sharp’s prediction. It’s quite a busy topic on the Internet after just a few hours now. Problem is, Chancellor Sharp can’t say anything to the regents to correct behavior such as this because Chairman Schwertner is ultimately Chancellor Sharp’s boss, as are all of the regents, who are appointed by Gov. Perry. Wonder what Governor Perry thinks about even the “thought” about “slightly” renaming Kyle Field.

Commentary: Some folks have already weighed in on Facebook; they think Chairman Schwertner’s suggestion is a great idea. Perhaps my personal opinion is that of a crusty ol’ Aggie who just can’t see the light, or who just doesn’t understand how important football is here as the overarching “raison d’etre” for all things Aggie. Momentum may be building to rename Kyle Field, and if it happens, then all the credit should go to Chairman Jim Schwertner for his forward-thinking idea….or not.

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