Longtime associate athletic director retires after 42-year career in Aggieland
by Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine
She started her career handing out student football tickets in a basketball gymnasium that was just 18 years old. G. Rollie White Coliseum has since been demolished to make room for a redeveloped Kyle Field.
She once marveled at a crowd of 58,000 at Kyle Field and the colossal third decks and press box being added to a then-venerable old football stadium. Kyle Field will soon have a capacity of over 100,000 after the most comprehensive and impressive redevelopment of a college football facility in the history of the sport.
She once became the business office manager for an athletic department one-fourth the size it is now and oversaw the payroll of Aggie athletics as the Aggies resided in the middle of the pack of the Southwest Conference. She ultimately reached second in command of a Texas A&M athletic department with a $70 million budget as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
Indeed, Penny King has seen much that is maroon in her 42 years of service, which ended Feb. 28 as King officially retired from the Texas A&M athletic department as its senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator.
“To see the explosion of Texas A&M—and I think athletics has had some impact on that—it’s just been such an amazing transition,” King said. “You look at our facilities and the number of people we have on our staff. We’re 200-plus now, and I think when I started we were around 50.
“We were always in the mid-range in the Southwest Conference, so to see the change going to the Big 12 and now going to the SEC, it’s just been phenomenal.”
King began her athletic department career in 1972 as a part-timer, hoping to earn a little Christmas money on the side. Former business manager Wally Groff then asked King to work in the business office, and King spent years in the department as an assistant athletic director. When Bill Byrne was hired in December of 2002, he quickly named King as his chief of staff.
Through the years, King was in the middle of some of the most glorious times of Aggie athletics, but she also was the point person during some of the department’s darkest moments.
A&M was hit with NCAA sanctions in football in 1988 and again in 1994, and King became an information gatherer for NCAA officials. The paper trail was often disheartening.
“I think the times we went through with the NCAA were some of the toughest we’ve ever had,” King said. “We spent a lot of time putting (information) together for the NCAA, and that was not a fun time. It was good to get past that and have all that behind us. With (compliance directors) David Batson and with Tedi Ellison, we turned the corner, and said, ‘That’s it. We can’t do it anymore.’
“And I think with Tedi’s influence there, she was phenomenal to get the compliance programs in place that we still have today and get education out. That was what we lacked.”
Unfortunately during some of King’s tenure, the Aggies were struggling on the courts and fields, as well, failing to win an NCAA title from 1987 until 2009 when the men’s golf team and track and field teams won NCAA titles in the same spring.
In the king sport of football, A&M flourished during its mid-1970s and mid-1980s runs, and R.C. Slocum’s 1998 team shocked the college football world with its Big 12 championship win over undefeated Kansas State.
As she looks back on her career, King lamented some of the shortsightedness that may have permeated through the A&M athletic department as the decades unfolded.
“We all wanted to succeed and wanted to be good,” King added, “but I’m not sure until we had people come in that hadn’t been here for a long, long time that we really opened our eyes internally and said, ‘We need to be better.’ I think that really opened our eyes as a staff and an administration. I think it really turned the corner for us, for our coaches and for everybody.”
But King is all smiles these days as she looks back on the last few years of unprecedented athletic success and brand exposure.
King was there for every NCAA Tournament game, as coach Gary Blair’s women’s basketball team reached the mountaintop with a stirring run to the national title in 2011.
And then King saw the second transition to a new conference up close, as A&M made the bold move to the SEC with a charismatic football coach and transcendent young quarterback.
“The combination of the SEC and the excitement of that and then to have Johnny (Manziel) come in…I just couldn’t believe what happened,” King added. “It’s just been a wonderful two years. It’s just amazing to me how one individual can change the whole face of an institution. And not just from an athletics standpoint but across the board.
“Just to be able to be a part of that was amazing. I joked with people that I’m going to go out with Johnny. You can’t top that. He is a special young man, and you don’t get those very often. There are people all over the world who have different opinions about him, but he did something special at this institution that nobody can ever take back. He changed it forever.”
While memories of Manziel will be etched in King’s mind forever, she knows the redevelopment of Kyle Field will have a far-reaching and lasting effect, as well.
The fact that Texas A&M is about to pull off this unprecedented project has the longtime A&M employee beaming like the doting grandmother she has become.
“We were in town when they finished the second decks, and then we added the third decks and press box and that was big time,” said King, who plans to travel the world as she and her husband, Clark, embark on retirement. “And then when we started the Zone, it was out of sight. We couldn’t imagine anything else happening. And I really admire the people who built the Bright Complex and left room in the south end zone (for expansion). I thought that was some real foresight.
“And the 12th Man Foundation has done a phenomenal job. People across the country are talking about how on earth can Texas A&M do this? I never would have believed it could happen. And it’s happening so quickly. Every time I look around and think where we came from….”
Indeed, the Aggies have come a long way. Just like Penny King.
Penny and her family were honored at a Feb. 24 ceremony on campus.
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