Director of Athletics Don Coryell onced played against the Bobcats; Now he is planning excellence in all sports
By Mark Wangrin
Don Coryell’s introduction to Texas State University came on Dec. 17, 1997, when the lanky, mop-headed 6-foot-5- inch forward’s Lamar Cardinals basketball team played the Bobcats at Strahan Coliseum.
By Coryell’s account, it was hardly auspicious. “I think (future NBA player) Jeff Foster blocked a lot of my shots and Donte Mathis probably went for 30 on our team,” Coryell says. “I kind of laugh about it now and I feel like I’ve come full circle.”
The Cardinals would lose that game 77-64. Foster would go on to play with the Indiana Pacers, retiring in 2012. Mathis served as head coach for two Christian schools in Texas before joining the Bobcats this year as an assistant coach. Coryell is in a good place today — in August the 45-year-old Beaumont native was named director of athletics for Texas State.
After graduating from Lamar University in 1998 with a degree in corporate communications, Coryell played a year of pro basketball in Ireland. Before he could decide if he was going to play a second year, Lamar came calling with a job in fundraising. Coryell worked there until 2004 when Texas State offered him the position of associate athletics director for external operations. For 17 years he handled athletic marketing and promotions, ticket sales, licensing, facilities and game operations, corporate sponsorships, community relations, and sport oversight of several sports.
In April when Dr. Larry Teis, director of athletics, stepped down to become special assistant to the president for athletics, Coryell was immediately tapped to be the interim director. “I have received excellent feedback, both internally and externally, about Mr. Coryell’s tremendous work ethic, extensive experience, and servant leadership style. I have personally observed his commitment to supporting our student-athletes in reaching their full potential in academics and their physical and mental well-being,” says Dr. Denise M. Trauth, president of Texas State.
“He is dedicated to supporting our coaches, and is already developing plans to achieve athletic excellence for all our sports; create an exciting and fun atmosphere for our students, fans, and alumni at all athletic events; and strengthen relationships with donors, fans, and our university community. As a former intercollegiate basketball player, it is clear to me Mr. Coryell understands the challenges and sacrifices required of our student-athletes.”
For Coryell, it was a dream come true. “I’d worked in athletics for a long time, and it was something I’ve always wanted.”
Coryell’s hiring was another example of Texas State promoting from within, something the university has done most recently with men’s basketball coach Terrence Johnson, baseball coach Steve Trout, and volleyball coach Sean Huiet. “It’s nice that the school rewards hard work,” Coryell says. “I think it shows that we have a strong culture.”
Coryell says he has one main priority — after making sure the department is as COVID-19 responsible as possible — is something Teis afforded him. “I want to try to help people succeed,” he says. “That would be the first thing.”
Coryell says other priorities are widening the school’s visibility, expanding the fan experience at games, keeping a strong relationship with and supporting athletes and staff — and winning.
“I don’t want us to be content with Sun Belt Conference titles,” he says. “I think we can take the program to national prominence and win national titles.”
Coryell makes his home in New Braunfels with his wife, Marci, and their children, Dylan and Myra. He enjoys outdoor sports in his limited free time. Outside of his experience and success, Coryell has one other minor advantage — the name he shares with legendary San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Cardinals NFL head coach Don “Air” Coryell. “The only thing I’ll say is I’ve done football scheduling forever, and when I get to call a school in the St. Louis area or on the West Coast,” he says, “I always have no problem getting through to whoever I need to.”
Asked if he was known as “Air” as a player, a la Michael “Air” Jordan, Coryell laughs. “It would have worked beautifully but there wasn’t a whole lot of air in this body. It would have been more like ‘Ground’ Coryell.”
Coryell still has some game, though, and brought it to lunchtime basketball at Strahan, pre-COVID, in pickup games featuring staff, alumni, and other players. There he’s known as “The Commissioner,” because he organizes the games and picks the sides. Coryell says that if he’s guilty of stacking one team, it’s usually the opponent, because “I like to be the underdog.”
Does he still have game?
"I like to think I've still got it. I can still push people around a little bit on the block, rebound a little, throw my way around,” he says. Asked if he’s worried about too much deference now that he’s the boss, Coryell says, “Well, you know, I thought about that. I hope they don’t take it too easy on me now.”