AUSTIN, Texas — Mike Perrin was firing up the grill for a Labor Day menu of wild salmon and asparagus when his phone rang.
On the other end was University of Texas President Greg Fenves with a question, or perhaps a plea: Would he be interested in taking over the Longhorns athletics department as interim director, a job that wasn't even open yet? Perrin, a former Texas linebacker, put down his tongs to listen and accept the offer.
A week later, athletic director Steve Patterson was gone, forced to resign, and Perrin is now charged with healing a fractured fan base that was leaving empty seats at football and basketball games and loudly complaining about Patterson's cash-first approach to Texas sports.
"The seriousness of the job I've been asked to do is very important to me," Perrin said Wednesday at his introductory news conference. "I want to reach out to the entire Longhorn nation."
Perrin noted thousands of empty seats at last week's home-opening win over Rice, a game that came on the heels of a blowout loss at Notre Dame. As a former player, Perrin urged fans to the "electric" atmosphere he enjoyed on the field.
"I read stories about people not renewing their tickets after years, that concerns me because if you get that kind of erosion, that sort of feeds on itself," Perrin said.
Fenves insisted that Patterson resigned and called it a "mutual agreement." But the separation came less than two years after Patterson was hired, a rocky 22 months filled with complaints from fans and donors about his aggressive push to raise money at what is already one of the nation's wealthiest athletic program.
Like Patterson, Perrin is a Texas law school graduate. But while Patterson was a cool personality groomed mostly in the world of the NBA front offices, Perrin's introduction revealed an affable cheerleader with deep ties to Longhorns athletics. His warm dreams of uniting the program belied a sharp and calculated approach that made him one Texas' most accomplished personal injury lawyers, working out of Houston.
Perrin said his litigation background and leadership of large law firms have prepared him for the job of leading a department with a staff of more than 300.
He is also well connected across every area of the department. Perrin played linebacker for coach Darrell Royal in the 1960s. He's been a top donor, served on the school's women's athletics council, and once owned Smokey, the cannon a Texas spirit group fires after every touchdown.
"Mike has sat in every seat in this university," Fenves said. "He has complete integrity and impeccable judgment."
Perrin is under contract until August 2016 with a $750,000 salary. Fenves said he's in no hurry to start a search for a permanent replacement.
Perrin put to rest any concerns about the immediate future of football coach Charlie Strong, who is 7-8 overall in his second season. Perrin called Strong a "personal friend" who has his "full support."
Attending the news conference was former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who retired in October 2013 after 32 years and was one of the most powerful figures in college sports. Dodds declined comment on Patterson and offered brief praise of Perrin.
"He'll do great," Dodds said.
Also attending was Texas women's athletic director Chris Plonsky, who said she doesn't want the men's job, which pays significantly more and is viewed as the overall leader of the department.
Turning the program over to Perrin leaves Texas with little experience at the top when it needs a strong presence in the Big 12 as some school presidents push for expansion from 10 teams. Fenves is barely three months on the job and has admitted he's still learning about the business of athletics.
Also on the table is lucrative new licensing and apparel deal once the current contract with Nike expires next year.
"Mike will be a welcome voice in the room," Plonsky said.