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


Meet Steve Orsini

When you walk into his office in the Lloyd All-Sports Center you don’t notice the four chars in the middle, or the desk with the computer on it, or the television hanging on the wall, what you notice is the wall on the opposite side of the room.

It’s a wall made of windows that look over Ford Stadium’s north end zone. That’s where SMU’s Athletic Director Steve Orsini does his job. Most college athletic programs are based on their football team, and in Texas that is certainly true.


It wasn’t an easy decision for the Hummelstown, Pa. native to decide between attending Notre Dame or Penn State. Not only was PSU the local school, but it was also where Orsini’s father and older brother played.

“I narrowed it down to Penn State and Notre Dame,” Orsini said. “My dad was the leading rusher at Penn State in the 50s, we grew up in Pennsylvania about 90 miles south of Penn State, my brother was a senior at Penn State as an outside linebacker when I was being recruited.”

But at the end of the day the decision was made to become a Fighting Irish.

“The decision was, Notre Dame showed more interest in me, it’s not that Penn State didn’t show interest in me, but it was all relative,” Orsini said. “And I wanted to see what the rest of the country was like, I’m a small town guy.”

It was during his senior season that Orsini’s decision to attend Notre Dame paid off. Orsini was named one of the four captains on the 1977 team and it would become a season to remember.

In the sixth game of the season the Fighting Irish were 4-1 facing their rivals Southern California who came into the game 5-1. To get the players and fans excited for the game Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine devised a plan.

Devine called his four captains into a meeting early in the week and told them he planned for them to wear green jerseys against USC.

“Coach Devine called in the four captains and he brought these green jerseys in,” Orsini said. Devine made the captains promise they would keep a secret as he showed them the green jerseys. “We literally said, ‘Next year the team will really enjoy it,’ never did it enter any of our minds that he would say, ‘How about Saturday against SC?'”

The team took the field in blue practice jerseys to warm up before the game, and upon returning to the locker room each player had a green jersey in his locker.

“It looked like we had just won the national championship, we were jumping and hugging and everything,” Orsini said. “I get emotional just thinking about it, there’s no denying us that day.”

Notre Dame went on to win the game 49-19 and, according to Orsini, the victory catapulted them to a National Championship.

“It really set the stage for us to make the final run, again coming back against Texas, the No. 1 team in the nation,” Orsini said.

The Longhorns had Heisman Trophy winner running back Earl Campbell defensive tackle Brad Shearer, winner of the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior offensive lineman or defensive lineman. The game was played in Texas and no one thought the Fighting Irish stood a chance.

On Jan. 2, 1978, Notre Dame traveled to Dallas to face Texas in the Cotton Bowl to play for the national championship. The Fighting Irish defeated the Longhorns 38-10 to complete an 11-1 National Championship season.

“It’s bigger than any dream I could have ever had,” Orsini said. “It really reinforced what I had been taught that if you set your goals high and work hard and you just may be able to reach your lofty goals.

Orsini recalled that when his recruiting class met for the first time as freshmen they set their goal high and promised each other that by the time they were done at Notre Dame they would be national champions. In their senior season they did just that.

“We set our goal that high from the day we met each other,” he said. “That’s what comes back to me as I recall that, how it all happened. It’s a long way from a little town in Pennsylvania, let alone to be a captain of it.”

Professional Life

Orsini realized early when he got to Notre Dame that when he started practicing with the team that he needed to hit the books. He was an accounting major at Notre Dame.

“I would go into my classes, and after the first week I didn’t see any other student athletes, not just football players but no other student athletes,” Orsini said. He went on to graduate with a degree in Business Administration.

Upon graduation Orsini was not a selection in the 1978 NFL draft, and even though he had offers to sign as an undrafted free agent, he decided to go into the professional sector, figuring if he wasn’t taken in the 12 rounds in the draft he didn’t have much of a chance to make an NFL roster as an undrafted player.

Orsini joined the accounting firm of Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, a nationally acclaimed firm in New York. He spent three years there and became a Certified Public Accountant. But then the phone rang. It was his alma mater, Notre Dame, calling for him.

When the team had traveled to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl during Orsini’s senior year, players were given cars to have while they were in town. Notre Dame’s business manager put him in charge of the cars. So when the school needed a person to help with the business side, Orsini’s name was brought up.

“I said no, thanks, but I’m set and I’m happy,” Orsini said. “The third time they came after me I said OK.”

What allowed Orsini to say yes was the partner in charge of the New York office could tell how much he wanted to go back to his alma mater and work. And because of that he told Orsini that they would keep his position open for one year and if he didn’t like Notre Dame he could come back and pick up where he left off.

“I never turned back, never even thought, I called up well before the year and said ‘you made it possible for me to take this opportunity, I’m calling now to fill my spot.’ If it was another school asking me to do that I would have said absolutely no thank you, it was the tug of my school.”

Early Athletics Career

Orsini became the Assistant Business Manager and Ticket Manager at Notre Dame at a time when that position was not found in many parts of college athletics.

But after serving in that position for three years the phone rang again. This time it was a professional team and a chance for him to return to where he had won the national championship. The Dallas Cowboys needed someone who could keep up with the changing business of athletics.

“The next thing I know Tex (Schramm, owner of the Cowboys) is calling asking permission from my boss to talk to me,” Orsini said.

Notre Dame was where Orsini wanted to be-it was his alma mater and the reason for leaving New York. But Schramm made Orsini “an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Orsini would return to college athletics in 1994 as Associate Athletics Director and Treasurer for the Naval Academy. He then went on to Georgia Tech as an Associate Athletic Director before getting his first opportunity to be an Athletic Director.

The call came from Central Florida in 2002. There he continued to enhance his reputation as a fundraiser. At Navy he increased revenue by 70 percent and did the same at UCF raising their budget by 70 percent.

While there, the Wayne Densch Sports Center, for the football program, and Nicholson Fieldhouse were constructed and are currently considered to be among the top athletic facilities in the country.

Orsini also received the funding for an on-campus football stadium, softball complex, a rowing boathouse and a convocation center.

These would be attributes Orsini would continue to show at SMU.

Return to Texas

Many of the important aspects of Orsini’s life occurred in Texas. It was where Notre Dame defeated the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl, it was where he entered professional sports administration with the Cowboys and it is where he is now athletic director at SMU.

“I am so happy to be back in Texas now,” Orsini said. “My wife, we’ve been married 21 years, this is the 12th year of our marriage, over half of our time in marriage has been here.”

He said when the position at SMU opened up he was unsure whether to apply for it or not. Orsini didn’t feel he had finished everything he wanted to do at UCF, and wanted to consult his family.

“It was an Orsini family package,” he said. “We always said, honestly never knowing if we would have a chance to come back, Dallas was our favorite spot.”

Work at SMU

Orsini’s return to Dallas put him quickly to work as he was responsible for hiring a new head men’s basketball coach.

“I try to get an employee, in this case a coach, who has been where we are going,” Orsini said. “We want to keep it balanced and want to be nationally competitive again, but there are two sports we aren’t nationally competitive, men’s basketball and football.”

For Orsini that starts with people. The situation with basketball allowed him to hire Matt Doherty to replace Jimmy Tubbs as the men’s head basketball coach. And one year later Orsini hired June Jones to become the new football coach.

“They were national coaches of the year,” Orisni said. “They were great coaches. Good recruiting and a credible background.”

Not only did Orsini bring in two top name coaches, but he also brought top facilities.

First came the Crum Basketball Center, a $13 million practice facility for both men’s and women’s basketball. The Crum Center has two practice courts, two locker rooms and a weight room connected to Moody Coliseum. The center allows all three sports that play in Moody, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball, to practice at the same time without a court conflict.

The second is a six-court outdoor tennis facility, the Turpin Tennis Stadium, along with a boathouse that was constructed on White Rock Lake to house the women’s rowing team.

“Better facilities make the kids want to work harder,” Orsini said. “It shows a commitment and proves that this university cares about sports. They wouldn’t allow this beautiful stadium to be on campus (if they didn’t care).”

Facilities for Orsini are important for two reasons. He says they help build the athletes the school already has because it enables them to work and gives them a reason to work. It also helps recruiting to show student-athletes what SMU is about and that the administration supports athletics.

Future for SMU

The renovation of Moody is something else that is high on Orsini’s list of what needs to be done. Along with Perkins Natatorium and finishing the tennis complex with a six-court indoor facility and SMU is working with the Dallas Athletic Club to put a clubhouse for SMU golf.

“We’ve got to win conference championships, including men’s basketball and football,” Orsini said. “We’re already doing that in a lot of others, we want to maintain those and bring the others up to that championship level.”

Orsini’s motto has been “Top 25 in everything we do.” That is something he believes can be done at SMU and will work to do.

More to Discover