NCAA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL : EVERYTHING IS KEPT IN ITS PLACE, AND HER PLACE IS IN THE TEXAS SUN : CONRADT IS CLEANING UP

Times Staff Writer

On another seemingly perfect day in the kingdom of Jody Conradt and women's basketball at the University of Texas, the sun is out in springtime, the Final Four is days away with the top-ranked Longhorns bringing in what figures to be the sport's largest crowd ever, and all the closets and equipment rooms are clean.

Just outside Memorial Stadium, the campus football field, most every car has a bumper sticker. The long-horned mug of Bevo, the school's bovine mascot, dominates, but no one appears to be steering him toward higher office. Conradt, the women's basketball coach and associate athletic director, seems to have had people hooked on that notion for a while.

"Jody Conradt for President," proclaim several bumper endorsements.

Conradt doesn't want to be president, just the best coach in the country. But in a last-minute draft, who knows. The great state of Texas would push for her. Texas would do anything for her.

"Jody is to Texas what Darrell Royal was to Texas a few years ago," said Donna Lopiano, the women's athletic director. "I kid you not. Wherever she goes, she is looked upon with the same respect. Both were Texas products. Every Texan wants to see in their kids and coaches the same thing they see in Jody."

Jody Conradt, refined former small-town tomboy, for president? The people here could see it now.

The White House would never be neater.

The Longhorns inched their way through the welcome-home crowd, nearly 1,000 strong, last Saturday night at Robert Mueller Airport after narrowly defeating Rutgers in the East Regional final at Fayetteville, N.C. They were surrounded for autographs and handshakes, by now a common occurrence around town.

Conradt had just about made it to the door when a female concessionaire at the airport stepped forward.

"You and this team make me so proud to be a woman," she said.

It's all true, she says. Every word.

Yes, the paper clips are, at times, all lined up in the same direction. And in moments of tension, she does, indeed, clean entire equipment rooms. And, of course, a trip to the closet in her two-bedroom condominium in town will show that the clothes are assigned a particular hanger.

"That closet is the most incredibly organized thing I've seen in my whole life," Lopiano said. "All the hangers are color coordinated. All the slacks go with blue, I think. And they're not just run-of-the-mill metal hangers. All are plastic, beautiful hangers. Wire hangers would never be allowed in that closet because they might bend, and then things would be disorganized."

Jody Conradt--the leader of the best women's basketball program in the country over the last two years and the person in charge of budgets for the best women's athletic department in the country--are you for real?

It's all true, she says. Every word.

Six weeks shy of her 46th birthday, she is as successful and respected and personable and interesting as she is organized. The question now is whether the legend of clean living is growing faster than her reputation as a coach and an administrator.

"There are a lot of things I don't tell people because they give me such a hard time about it," Conradt said, laughing.

So the role of being the ultimate organizer isn't as big as it seems?

"Probably more," she said, noting that her biggest fear is an unfinished job.

Consider:

--Pens. In the desk drawer, the blue goes in front, the red in back.

"The only way she won't know if I borrowed a pen is to just not return it," said Colleen Matsuhara, an assistant under Conradt for two years and former assistant athletic director at UCLA.

--Spring cleaning. Not long after basketball season, Conradt rallies her co-workers for a cleaning party in the women's athletic department. They need only bring old clothes to wear. She takes care of the rest.

--The program. The coach oversees everything from proper etiquette--in her office bookcase Emily Post is next to "Practical Modern Basketball"--to the seating arrangement for season ticket-holders at the 16,000-seat Erwin Center across the street from campus.

"She's so organized that if she ever had an unorganized thought, she would file it," Matsuhara said the other day.

Said Lopiano: "I've never seen anyone so attentive to what happens around her. She never makes a social mistake. She never makes a political mistake.

"And I've never seen Jody frustrated. She doesn't engage in extremes like frustration at all. She's too organized for that."

A couple of weeks ago, a man took his family to lunch at the Faculty Center on campus. They had been to several games at the Erwin Center, and the father took his 5-year-old son to meet Conradt.

The introduction completed, the boy turned back and said: "Dad, can I be a Lady Longhorn when I grow up?"

Oh, how they love Jody C. in Texas. Except, of course, in the other cities of the Southwest Conference.

Hers isn't too welcome a face around those parts, considering that Texas hasn't lost an SWC game since January of 1978. She is especially unappreciated at Texas A&M; in College Station, about 125 miles northeast of here, since she takes particular pride in telling good Aggie jokes.

Overall, Conradt started the season with a 322-49 record--that's a .868 winning percentage--in 10 seasons at Texas and 439-112 in a 17-year coaching career. After winning the national championship last season, the Longhorns began 1986-87 as No. 1 and have held that spot most of the way, having lost only to Tennessee, another Final Four team.

At a school where the football coach was fired last November despite winning an average of almost nine games a year, Conradt seems to be holding steady somewhere between sainthood and having a building named after her.

Still, she is not without pressures. Around town, the feeling is that the Longhorns were expected to make it back home to win a second straight NCAA title.

She reportedly had a base salary of $47,500 last season, along with a $15,000 shoe deal that also called for a $4,000 clothing allowance and a $5,000 bonus for winning the national championship. She got that and capped an undefeated season by beating USC in the final game at Lexington, Ky.

Interest had been developing, but after that, life, for sure, would never be the same. The Longhorns--the Lady Longhorns--had grabbed Texas by the Panhandle and would take it by storm.

Conradt was named local chairman for Christmas Seals and the honorary chairwoman of the Multiple Sclerosis Readathon in Austin. She spoke to the American Lung Assn. She had an endowment presented to the school in her name. She has trouble getting through a meal in public without an autograph request. The team was host for an Arthritis Foundation benefit.

Conradt showed up at a Longhorn baseball game a couple of weeks after beating USC and was spotted by the public address announcer, who pointed her out to the crowd.

They went crazy, stamping their feet, clapping and chanting, "Jody! Jody! Jody!" as the game was going on.

Lopiano has made it a point to start most of her speaking engagements by saying: "I hired Jody Conradt." And that is greeted with applause.

Conradt got the tape of the Longhorns' welcome-home reception at the Erwin Center the night they returned from Lexington and liked it so much that she used it as the introduction for her answering machine.

"Thirty-four and oh," the crowd chants, picking up more speed each time. "Thirty-four and oh . . . " The announcer comes in. "The head coach of the national champion women's basketball, Division I, team, I give you Jody Conradt."

Indeed, just as she did then, Conradt still glows in the limelight. Interview requests are rarely turned down, even if she has to be a few minutes late to practice. It's the same with autographs and guest introductions. All attention to women's basketball is encouraged.

Don't call the doctor just yet.

There's more to tidying up equipment rooms the week of the Final Four and spending hours organizing a 20-foot long closet in the hallway outside her office than a frantic cleaning fetish. That's only part of it.

"The real reason I go into the closet is that it's the only place I can get away from the phones," she said.

Two weeks ago, a new phone system was installed. At 9 p.m. on one average working day, Conradt found a new extension had been installed--in her closet retreat.

A new twist to another seemingly perfect day in the kingdom.

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