The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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High stakes for Orsini and SMU football program

Tomorrow will be the first chance to see June Jones’ Mustangs in action. No one has more invested in the new head coach than athletic director Steve Orsini.

Entering his third year on the Hilltop – his second anniversary was March 26 – the athletic department has his stamp on it everywhere you turn, nowhere more so than the football program, which was the final part of the department to get the Orsini touch.

New coach? Check.

Renewed excitement? Check.

A team worth watching? That’s yet to be determined.

But Orsini has spent the past months trying to get the football program back to where he thinks it can be. The effort began during the last football season in the Ford Stadium luxury boxes, according to the athletic director.

“I would say hello to them walking into their suites and they’d say something to the effect of ‘Have you seen enough?’ Meaning, ‘So when are you going to help us put a winning product on the football field?'”

“So I would, of course, give the answer I was giving at that time,” Orsini said, but their comments didn’t go unnoticed.

He would write down that person’s name and add it to a list he kept on him. The list grew and Orsini wound up with an instant call sheet after Phil Bennett was fired midway through the season.

It took him three weeks to call each and every person on his list. When he talked to them and asked for the money to get a new coach, the response was generally the same:

“Show me a hire that I can see that confidence in one day, then you have my support.”

Orsini didn’t tell the boosters who he was targeting, saying only he was aiming high and that he would take as long as needed to find the right man for the job.

“I knew, let’s say I didn’t get that person who wowed them, I had a chance of losing those pledges,” Orsini said.

But that didn’t happen. It did take a while, a 10-week search to be exact, but when Jones was introduced as the new coach the boosters had made a commitment not seen in decades in the athletic department.

Orsini calls the donors the “Circle of Champions.” Admission to the circle is $100,000 toward Jones’ salary and other costs for the program.

The interesting thing, says Orsini, is the circle is still growing. Weeks after Jones was hired Orsini was still attending events that he was invited to by eager alumni ready to get involved again.

It’s a sign that things, at least off the field, are going right for the football program.

“He is a perfect fit for us for what we need now, and that’s someone who can create a spark of excitement in our fan base,” Orsini said.

But the athletic director knows the job isn’t done yet.

“I know we’re in the ‘what have you done lately’ business,” he said. “We’re still a 1-11 football team ranked 116th. That’s not at all the results SMU is capable of having.”

“Until those results change, the job isn’t done.”

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