Private investing titan Tom Hicks is retiring from his $11 billion firm to do a George Steinbrenner turn, hoping to breathe life into the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars as a more hands-on owner.

The founder of Dallas investment behemoth Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst announced he would step down effective March 31, 2005, relinquishing his place on the private equity group's investing committee to concentrate on running Southwest Sports Group. That's the holding company that owns the Rangers baseball team and Stars hockey team, as well as a real estate subsidiary, Southwest Sports Realty.

"Following my retirement from HMTF next March, I will continue to be an investor in the firm, my name will continue to be on the door, and I will 'root' for HMTF from the sidelines and help it however I can," Hicks wrote in a letter to investors in the firm's private equity funds. "But my primary focus will be on pursuing my new 'day job' as a full-time sports team owner, real estate developer and private family investor, partnering with members of my family and assisted by other professional staff."

Co-founder John Muse and Jack Furst, who became a partner in the firm in 1989, will run the firm's management committee with Lyndon Lea, who heads the firm's London office.

The move is a reversal for Hicks, 58, who made rumblings in recent years about selling the two sports franchises. Southwest Sports had sales of $131 million in 2002, a 2.5% increase from the year before, according to Hoover's, a business information service.

His private equity firm's apparently revived fortunes may make it easier for Hicks to walk away feeling like a winner.

After a few brutal years in which the firm lost large sums of money in failed telecommunications investments and took a pounding in a takeover battle over what is now the Regal Entertainment Group ( RGC) with Colorado investor Philip Anschutz, Hicks Muse managed to restore its luster with a pair of very profitable deals.

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