The House That Johnny Built
In just four years as football coach at Texas A&M, Paul “Bear” Bryant led his Aggies to an undefeated season and a Southwest Conference championship and produced the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow.
At the end of the 1957 campaign, Bryant left College Station to take the head coaching job at the University of Alabama, his alma mater. While there Bryant became a sporting legend. His teams dominated the Southeastern Conference, winning 14 league titles and six national championships.
More than a half century later, Texas A&M followed in the Bear’s tracks and joined the SEC, leaving the Big 12 Conference and ending–at least to date–its long-standing football rivalry with the University of Texas.
In 2012, their first year of SEC football play, the Aggies posted an 11-2 record, earning a regular-season victory over an Alabama team which would go on to win that season’s national title. In that year’s Cotton Bowl, the Aggies thrashed Oklahoma to finish fifth in the final Associated Press poll.
That marked the school’s best end-of-year ranking since Bear Bryant’s 1956 squad went 9-0-1.
The unexpected success of that inaugural SEC season took place with but a meer rookie head coach, Kevin Sumlin, and an unproven redshirt-freshman quarterback who went by the nickname of “Johnny Football.”
At the end of that 2012 season, Johnny Manziel became the second Aggie football player to win the coveted Heisman Trophy.
About the same time Manziel hoisted the Heisman in the heart of New York City’s Times Square, the Texas A&M University System announced that the storied Home of the 12th Man, Kyle Field, would undergo a $485-million “redevelopment.”
System regent Jim Schwertner announced that upon completion of the project he wanted the venue to be officially renamed as “Kyle Field: The House That Johnny Built.”
The excitement Manziel and his Aggie teammates generated during the school’s first year of SEC play no doubt played a significant role in generating the private-sector financial support needed to dramatically change the superstructure of Kyle Field.
But, which “Johnny” was most responsible for the dramatic upgrade?
A longtime Texas political powerhouse and the former comptroller for the State of Texas, John Sharp assumed the helm of the Texas A&M System on September 6, 2011. From the outset, the former Aggie student-body president made it clear he intended to do things differently.
After two unsuccessful runs for Texas lieutenant governor, Sharp retired from politics and entered the private sector where, he said upon becoming chancellor, “I made enough money so that I don’t have to have this job.
“I can truly do what Sam Houston once said: ‘Do right and hell with the consequences.’”
As chancellor, Sharp immediately began looking for ways to bolster the System’s coffers. As Texas comptroller, he had been so successful at streamlining government finances that in 1993 then-President Bill Clinton asked him for help in doing the same with the federal government.
One of Sharp’s earliest budget-cutting moves as the A&M System chancellor was to outsource campus services at the College Station flagship university.
That same idea had paid dividends at other System schools, but cutting the flagship financial outlay for such things as food, maintenance and landscaping services was a risky and, initially, a publicly-unpopular endeavor.
Many longtime campus workers feared for their jobs.
Outsourcing wound up saving millions of dollars while most of the individuals who did the day-to-day work kept their jobs. The move also enabled Sharp to funnel more money toward education and research, the primary missions of every institute of higher education.
It was a true win-win scenario.
John Sharp is a man who understands not only politics and finance, but also human nature. In his time as chancellor, he’s been a catalyst in enhancing both Texas A&M’s brand and overall image.
In the late stages of the Aggies 2012 football season, when it appeared that Manziel could emerge from “out of nowhere” to win the Heisman, the school’s 12th Man Foundation hired the architectural firm Populous to do an initial feasibility study of enlarging Kyle Field.
Sharp liked the idea and threw his full and considerable support behind it.
Of the 32 stadiums in Major League Baseball, 20 have been designed by Populous, dating back to its days as the HOK Group. The Kansas City-based company, founded in 1983, drew up plans for the San Antonio Alamodome, construction on which began in 1993; and, more recently designed the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium in Houston.
Craig Kaufman was the Populous architect who led the Kyle Field redevelopment.
“There were parts (of the stadium) that dated back to 1927,” Kaufman said. “Over decades there (were) pieces here and there added and changed and modified. It was a patchwork of design and wasn’t really tied at all as a unified station.”
Sharp shepherded the approval process for the Kyle Field undertaking. At all levels, support for the proposal was enthusiastic and giving was generous.
Groundbreaking for the project took place immediately following the Aggies final home game of the 2013 season on November 9. That contest, a 51-41 win over Mississippi State also marked Manziel’s final home game as A&M’s quarterback. He left for the NFL following his sophomore season.
More than 88,000 fans were in attendance to witness his College Station farewell..
Phase I of the redevelopment project began with the demolition of the east-side deck. That portion of Kyle Field was reconfigured adding a third deck for students. A south end-zone complex, completing the stadium’s bowl configuration, was also added in Phase I.
On December 3, less than a month after demolition work began, 28-year-old Angel Garcia, while working on site, fell from the fourth level of the north end-zone complex and died. His family filed a lawsuit and was later awarded $53 million in damages.
Neither Texas A&M nor the Texas A&M System was named in the suit.
Phase-I work continued through the tragedy and was completed shortly before the beginning of the 2014 season. Phase-II plans called for the west-side stadium to be demolished with reconstruction including the addition of suites and luxury boxes diminishing the total seating capacity of the west grandstands.
When the Aggies opened the 2014 season at home against Lamar University the renovated east-side stands with its three seating decks and the newly-constructed south end-zone complex were both in place. Thus, more than 104,000 fans attended the 2014 opener, setting stadium, state and conference highs
Later that year, more than 110,000 fans watched Texas A&M lose to Ole Miss.
The official attendance that day–110,633–remains the SEC and state-of-Texas record.
Michigan holds the all-time college football attendance mark at over 115,000.
Since the planned seating capacity upon completion of the Kyle Field redevelopment was 102, 733, John Sharp was pleased with the 2014 attendance figures.
He figured it boded well for the future.
“When this thing started it was the most nervous time in my life,” Sharp said upon completion of the project. “Folks didn’t think we could fill up a 102,000-
“We sold all 102,000 tickets (for the 2015 season) in 18 minutes.”
The media fact sheet created by Populous before the project began called the endeavor “the most extensive redevelopment of a collegiate athletic facility in history.” The company also said the project was “the first stadium in history to be designed in response to demographic and market research.”
Some 24,000 fans were queried via an online questionnaire providing information which “directly shaped the design and premium amenities.”
Those amenities included a nearly 30,000-square-foot Hall of Champions event and meeting space. In addition, the plan created nearly 100 suites throughout the stadium, a three-story Founders Club, a Legacy Club featuring an 11,000-square-foot lounge and nearly 1,500 premium stadium seats. A new press box and canopies over both the east- and west-side grandstands were also built.
Those canopies are critical beyond their ability to offer a shady respite to fans.
Their acoustical design amplifies and directs crowd noise toward the stadium’s playing field, giving the Aggies one of the most definitive home-field advantages in college football.
The new Kyle Field was unveiled with Texas A&M’s 2015 season opener against Ball State on Saturday, September 12. A standing-room only crowd of 104, 213 saw the Aggies defeat the Cardinals 56-23.
A&M jumped out to a 49-3 first-half lead that day. The Aggies starting quarterback, Kyle Allen–who threw three first-half touchdown passes–was replaced late in the second quarter by freshman Kyler Murray, who tossed a touchdown pass of his own to mark A&M’s only second-half score.
Eventually, Murray–like Crow and Manziel before him–went on to win college football’s top prize. His Heisman Trophy, however, is now located in Norman, Oklahoma. Murray transferred to the University of Oklahoma from Texas A&M after that 2015 season.
Thus, no one gave rise to the possibility of renaming A&M’s palatial football home as “Kyler Field.”
Today, Kyle Field is the fourth-largest college football stadium in the country, behind Big 10 venues located at Michigan, Penn State and The Ohio State University. But, in the “arms race” that college football recruiting has become, no site exceeds the grandeur, excitement and tradition of the Home of the 12th Man.
And to top it off, John Sharp’s little “fixer-upper” project came in on-time and under budget.