By Cassie Logan | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas – Pete Carlon was overcome with emotion as he recalled receiving an autographed picture from a UTA alumnus and former NFL player in the mail one day.
As the head athletics trainer in the early 80’s, Carlon was on the sideline to cast Byron Williams’ leg broken in a game against Arkansas State. After extensive rehab and doubts of ever seeing the field again, the wide receiver returned to be drafted by the Green Bay Packers. The autographed picture Carlon opened was of Williams catching a pass at Texas Stadium. Along with it was a note thanking him for the time spent during physical therapy because without it, a pro career wasn’t possible.
Carlon’s breath slowed and words stalled attempting to describe that moment, but what filled the silence was an understanding of how much passion and vigor he has for UTA Athletics. Its past, present and future.
His proudest achievement in his 35-year tenure wasn’t any plans he implemented or any decisions he made. He would define his career by the lives he impacted.
“It was always about the people,” Carlon said.
Carlon was recognized for his service to UTA Athletics and upcoming retirement during halftime of the men’s basketball game Saturday evening following a sit-down interview in College Park Center’s hospitality suite. Current UTA Athletic Director Jim Baker, Senior Associate Athletic Directors Debbie Garcia and John Mocek, and track and field head coach John Sauerhage stood next to him on the court as he received an honorary plaque, cementing his name in Maverick history forever.
“I’ve really been blessed in my lifetime to have a 35-year career at UTA,” Carlon said. “I’ll be forever grateful for the experiences that I had. The best part of it has been the people. The wonderful donors, supporters and tremendous coaches and dedicated support staff and administrators.
“I have to remember the student-athletes I’ve worked with. Anything that I’ve accomplished in my career has been because of the people I was able to interact with. They’ve all had a special influence on my career.”
Carlon’s tenure and dedication to UTA Athletics is perhaps unmatched as he has served as a vital component to the university’s pursuit of excellence since 1981. His career began as head athletic trainer with the challenge of having no assistants, but he embraced it and connected with student-athletes to lay a foundation of trust and comfort. Players thought of Carlon as source of guidance, confessing things they wouldn’t even tell coaches.
He went on to become the associate athletic director three seasons later, until former AD Bill Reeves passed the torch onto Carlon in 1996. For the next 16 years, UTA would flourish with Carlon at the helm of its athletic program. Unlike many institutions, UTA has never been sanctioned by the NCAA or had to deal with compliance issues. Carlon ran athletics with integrity and grace, a tradition still alive and well to this day.
The Mavericks claimed 51 Southland Conference Championships and three of its Commissioner’s Cups, the most by any AD in history. His achievements earned him a place in UTA Athletics and Southland’s halls of honor, and in 2010 was awarded Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year.
Carlon helped initiate UTA’s move to the Western Athletic Conference, allowing Baker to later pursue membership of the Sun Belt. He was also one to push for a student athletics fee, the first of its kind in the state of Texas, setting pace for financial stability for years to come.
His effort toward academic success for student-athletes also set a standard for the kind of caring and devoted staff Carlon wanted behind the scenes. He implemented academic support services and programs to ensure excellence in the classroom ranked above all else.
“I want to be remembered as a person who cared about not just wins and losses, but about student-athlete welfare,” Carlon said. “I wanted them to excel in their academics and achieve their dreams. I may have not had all the answers, but I’d try to find out for them."
Two of his most crowning accomplishments came later in his term and would prove to be catalysts for UTA’s rise to national prominence. Carlon and former UTA President James Spaniolo took charge on the construction of College Park Center, which was approved for funding in 2009 and opened in 2012. Carlon was a member of the design team.
“I think of him as a true Maverick,” Spaniolo said. “He was always thinking about UTA, always working hard to advance our student-athletes and to support our coaches and athletic program. He’s one of our heroes.”
Carlon might be considered a hero for his decision alone to hire UTA men’s basketball head coach Scott Cross. The former director described that process as one of the most exhausting endeavors as head of athletics. But calls from experts like Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas all suggesting names couldn’t waver Carlon’s instincts about the perfect fit. It was an idea he’d entertained even when Cross was still donning a Maverick uniform.
“I’m forever indebted to him for giving me the opportunity,” Cross said. “I’d never been a head coach and he definitely had to go out on a limb for me. He’s a great person and was a great athletic director. He was one of the most loyal people I’ve met. He preaches family first and made the athletic department like a family.”
Carlon was always on a first-name basis with his student-athletes, even as the director. It was an unusual circumstance for someone of his status, but those relationships were what kept him, and the athletic department, running. It was never about taking ownership for some of the places and people that now define the program. His career was always just about the people.
“I hope that those who have worked with me, particularly the student-athletes, coaches and support staff, felt like we were all a family,” Carlon said. “UTA has always had a family atmosphere and that’s one thing that kept me here. I never had any aspirations of leaving the university.
“It’s important for them to feel like people care, not just about how they can help win ballgames, but that you care about them 10 years down the road. One of the biggest senses of appreciation I get is when they come back to visit or when I get calls, texts and emails. UTA is in good hands and I think the best years for our university are yet to be."
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