For every football game at Rice Stadium in Houston, there is a first fan who enters the stadium. There may be support activity on the field, technical folks checking lights and cameras, groundskeepers tending to last-minute details with the field itself, announcers checking sound systems, and workers everywhere in concession stands readying food and beverages to serve the throngs of people from the home team—and of course, supporters of the rival team.
That fan might be very much in the moment, and so too is Dan McGarry, the associate athletic director of facilities, events, and capital projects at Rice University. On game days—be it at the football stadium, Tudor Fieldhouse (where basketball and volleyball games are played), Reckling Park (baseball), the George R. Brown Tennis Center, the Aquatics Center Natatorium, or Wendel D. Ley Track & Halloway Field—McGarry and his team of facilities professionals have to manage a lot of moving parts that keep the event on schedule.
“It’s a job of troubleshooting, accommodating broadcast media, security, and making sure nothing is blocking the camera shots,” McGarry says. The scoreboards need to be connected to a control room, which fortunately has an assigned technical person from the scoreboard company (Daktronics) on-site for football games.
McGarry is an unabashed, lifelong sports fan and considers himself lucky to be able to see so many games within close proximity of play. But that said, he sees about 5 percent of the action on the field or court. When all 47,000 seats are filled to see the Rice Owls football team play a game, there are a lot of off-field balls in the air to juggle, so to speak.
Just like no player shows up to the games without preparation, a game day results from tons of preparation by the facilities folks. The week before a contest is busy, coordinating with the sports information department and virtually everything and everyone having to do with the physical structure and functions.
McGarry spends his time before, during, and after the season on two essential functions: preventive maintenance and capital projects.
“We like for our maintenance to be preventive and not reactionary,” he says. Of course, in the hot and humid subtropical south Texas climate—subject to hurricanes and monsoons—one can only imagine the impact of weather on the campus and its buildings. The air conditioning for indoor spaces operates on a 24/7 basis much of the year, meaning a maintenance coordinator is assigned to that task alone.
Capital projects—the funding of multimillion dollar buildings and renovations—are also a major undertaking. Since landing at Rice in 2019, McGarry’s overseen renovations of a football stadium that hadn’t been updated since 1970, replaced the playing surfaces of the football field, baseball field, track, and basketball court and modernized locker rooms for men’s and women’s basketball and women’s soccer.
The condition of athletic facilities is important for many reasons. One is that it’s what coaches and athletes need to maximize performance. Fans and alumni want their teams to perform at the peak of their abilities under optimal conditions. Just as important, it helps in recruiting better athletes to Rice rather than competing schools.
Rice is well known as an esteemed academic institution, ranking in the top 20 schools by U.S. News, number nine in Niche’s “Best Colleges in the Nation,” and number four for “quality of life” and number one for “lots of race/class interaction” by the Princeton Review. But strong academics and campus life do not get in the way of the school’s sports.
The football team in 2023 had a middle-of-the-pack record and its basketball team had a winning season in 2022-2023 (19-16), earning a No. 6 seed in the C-USA tournament. In another measure that deserves attention, the school ranks among the best of universities for its student-athlete graduation rates. Students in baseball, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country/track, soccer, women’s tennis, and volleyball each had a 100 percent graduation rate.
“Rice is able to focus on both high-level academics and athletics,” McGarry says. “We can be successful at both. One is not more important than the other.”
McGarry himself won a national award in 2023 for facilities management from CEFMA, the Collegiate Event and Facility Management Association. But he’s quick to take the spotlight off himself and credit the people he works with for running a successful operation.
“I believe in them,” he says. “I support them. When I do what’s right for them, they reciprocate. I have a great staff and try to pitch in to help them where and when I can. The happiest time of my day is when they come to me to ask me for help or advice.”
When the last fan exits the stadium after a game, there’s a good chance Dan McGarry is still there.
Over two decades, Sharp Architecture Inc. has had the privilege of partnering with Dan McGarry and Rice University. His unwavering dedication to enhancing the student athlete experience and collaborating on facility improvements is truly inspiring. We take pride in our contributions to one of the world’s most beautiful and prestigious campuses. Looking ahead, we’re excited to continue our relationship with Dan and Rice University, aiming to create state-of-the-art facilities.