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McRaven named only finalist for University of Texas chancellor

If everything goes as planned, Adm. William McRaven, the outgoing commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, will be setting aside his gold Navy SEAL trident next year for the orange longhorn emblem of the University of Texas System.

The Texas Board of Regents on Tuesday evening unanimously voted to name McRaven, who is retiring after a 37-year Navy career, as the sole finalist for the job of chancellor of one of the nation’s largest university systems.

Under state law, university governing boards must name finalists for chancellor at least 21 days before making an appointment. The Board of Regents must meet again to make an official appointment. If appointed, the San Antonio-raised McRaven will return to his alma matter and begin his new duties in January, according to the university system statement. In 1977, McRaven graduated from the University of Texas-Austin School of Communications with a bachelors degree in journalism and a minor in Middle Eastern studies.

“I would be honored to have the opportunity to serve the University of Texas System and the people of Texas,” McRaven, 58, said in a statement provided by the university system. “My wife Georgeann and I are excited about returning home to our family and friends. I thank the Regents for their trust and confidence in my leadership and I look forward to this extraordinary responsibility with enthusiasm and gratitude.”

McRaven has served as commander of the MacDill Air Force Base-headquartered command since August, 2011. He will turn over command to Army Gen. Joseph Votel on Aug. 28.

McRaven, who planned the mission that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011 and played a supporting role in capturing Saddam Hussein in 2003, is a great catch, said Regents’ Chairman Paul Foster.

“We were aware that getting Adm. McRaven to consider the UT System position might have presented a challenge, given high demand nationally for his leadership,” Foster said in a statement. “We were honored that he chose the UT System as the most important place where he could continue to serve his nation upon his pending retirement from a most distinguished military career.”

McRaven, Foster added, “is a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero. His decades-long experience in proven strategic leadership, teamwork, vision, decision making, discipline, and working directly with national and world leaders make him an excellent choice – among a pool of extraordinarily distinguished candidates – to guide the UT System into its next chapter of greatness.”

McRaven’s stature in the university system goes beyond his military legacy. In May, he delivered an already legendary commencement speech, telling students graduating from UT-Austin 10 life lessons, including the importance of making their beds. He also flashed the school’s famous “Hook ‘Em Horns” sign.

After current Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa announced his resignation earlier this year, the university system hired a search firm to find candidates to replace him. McRaven met earlier this spring with Foster and Regents’ Vice Chairmen Gene Powell and Steve Hicks, who comprised the search committee, the university system said in a statement.

The chancellor serves as the chief administrative officer of the UT system and reports directly to the Board of Regents, the university system’s governing body, said Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the system’s spokeswoman. The system has nine academic universities, six health institutions, a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000 and annual operating budget of $14.6 billion. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state, LaCoste-Caputo said.

At Socom, McRaven oversees a 67,000-person, $10 billion operation tasked with synchronizing the global war on terror.

Those close to McRaven say he was proudest of spearheading the creation of the Preservation of the Force & Family initiative, a “moral imperative” to take care of the mental, spiritual and physical well-being of those who serve in the Special Operations Forces, as well as their families. His wife dedicated much of her career to playing a leadership role with military families and wounded warriors.

Joe Maguire, a retired Navy SEAL vice admiral, said McRaven, a long-time close friend, cemented his role as a commando thought leader with “Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice,” his 1995 book examining commando missions from several countries.

“He always put a priority on education,” said Maguire, whose sons also have a special relationship with McRaven. He’s their godfather.

McRaven’s case study, said Maguire, “is the thing that broke him out as tremendous leader and academic as well.”

Aside from military strategy and planning, McRaven engaged with academia during his Socom tenure. As the impetus behind the development of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit or TALOS project. McRaven encouraged universities, among others, to help develop a suit that could provide an exoskeleton made of liquid armor and smart fabrics to do things such as repel bullets, stop hemorrhaging and enhance sensory capabilities. Several premier research universities, including Johns Hopkins, MIT and Georgia Tech, are collaborating on the project with defense and industry leaders, according to the university system statement.

McRaven’s accomplishments over his military career will serve him well as chancellor, said Maguire.

“He would have to deal with the whole board and the politics of the state,” said Maguire. “And you have to deal with tenured professors and people who have been there a long time. How do you get something done? Bill has a tremendous track record of success.”

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