AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When the University of Texas hired Jody Conradt to coach its women's basketball team for $17,000 in 1976, one of the state's largest newspapers announced the move with the headline: "Woman Hired at Man's Salary."
Conradt knew it was just the start of a long, tough fight to lift women's college athletics at Texas and around the country from afterthought to equal footing with the men.
On Friday, Texas unveiled a 7-foot bronze statue to honor Conradt's role in that fight, her 900 career victories and her 1986 national championship team, the first in the sport to go undefeated. Conradt was elected to basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
Conradt had coaching stints at Sam Houston State and Texas-Arlington before taking the Texas job. She saw a chance to wake up a "sleeping giant" in the early days of Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans sex discrimination in educational programs — including sports.
Title IX and the universities that embraced it changed the lives of young women across the country, Conradt said.
"This is not about me. It's about the University of Texas doing the right thing and showing to the world how much they value the role of women's athletics," Conradt said. "We changed the world."
The 71-year-old Conradt had a 900-307 career record as a coach. She coached the Longhorns from 1976-2007 and was the Texas women's athletic director from 1992-2001.
The ceremony attended by about 600 people, including former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, Conradt's longtime friend and rival. Summitt joined Conradt on the stage, flashed the "Hook'em Horns" sign and sang "The Eyes of Texas" with the crowd.
"Jody and I go way back. So far back that we have been called pioneers," Summitt said. "Even though Jody was a fierce competitor on the court, she was a true friend to me off the court as well. I don't know of anyone who deserves this honor more."
Conradt is the first Texas women's athletic official to be honored with a statue on campus. The 600-pound statue depicts Conradt with an outstretched right arm flashing the "Hook'em" sign and was placed inside the school's basketball arena..
Dozens of Conradt's former players attended the ceremony.
Joanne Benton-McCrary, who played for Texas from 1988-1993, said Conradt taught her players more than basketball.
"She was preparing us for the future, to be the doctors, lawyers, teachers and mothers of the next generation," Benton-McCrary said.