June 2, 2010
Haywood Harris, for nearly 50 years a steadying voice in the UT Athletics Department since Gen. Robert R. Neyland appointed him Sports Information Director in January 1961, died Wednesday afternoon at his Knoxville home. He was 80.
Harris battled health issues the last six months after suffering a stroke in November the morning of Tennessee's home football game against Memphis. The retired SID had maintained office hours as UT Athletics Historian up to that time. He was a familiar voice on the football press box public address system and still co-hosted with Gus Manning one of the nation's longest running sports radio programs, "The Locker Room," on Saturday gamedays. The Locker Room celebrated its 49th season in 2009.
"I have lost an incredible friend," Manning said. "Haywood and I have enjoyed a wonderful friendship of tremendous esteem and respect for more than a half century. Haywood was extremely intelligent and humorous. He loved his family, friends and especially his political party. And he detested the New York Yankees.
"Haywood played golf but said it was a waste of time. He did enjoy cards--mainly the game of Tong--and breakfast at Long's. Haywood was one of my best friends for many years."
A Maryville native who was born Aug. 26, 1929, Harris graduated from Knoxville High School in 1947 and the University of Tennessee in 1951. Just last week, Harris was recognized as one of the top 100 outstanding graduates of Knoxville High School. After graduation, Harris worked for The Knoxville Journal and The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer before returning as UT's alumni field secretary in 1959.
Upon Manning's recommendation, Neyland hired Harris as Manning's replacement to the SID position in 1961. After Manning was promoted, Neyland informed him of his intent to conduct a "nationwide search" for a new Sports Information Director.
Manning's famous response: "I'll go downstairs and see if Haywood is still in my office."
Harris was the last employee hired by athletics director Neyland before the general's death in 1962.
Harris served UT as Sports Information Director, Assistant Athletics Director and Associate Athletics Director of Media Relations. In 1982, Inside Sports magazine listed him as one of the top five publicists in the nation.
"Smart. (Haywood was) smarter than the rest of us," said John Ward, longtime Voice of the Vols. "But smart didn't stand in the way of Haywood's putting people and his profession first. Perhaps more times than we'll ever know, a smart suggestion from Haywood to higher-ups helped create the positive image the University of Tennessee enjoys today among people from all walks of life.
"Haywood didn't ask for credit; didn't want it. He simply did what a really smart person does--help other people."
Harris is an inductee of four halls of fame--College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame (1984), Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame (1999), Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame (2005), and Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame (2006). In 1991, he received the Arch Ward Award, the highest honor bestowed by CoSIDA, the national organization of sports information directors. Harris twice served as president of the Southeastern Conference's publicity directors association and he earned a Chancellor's Citation for Extraordinary Service to UT in 1992.
After his retirement in 2000, Harris continued his employment on a part-time basis as Executive Assistant to the Athletics Director at Tennessee and, in addition to special projects, continued with football and basketball game management duties. Along with those responsibilities, Harris also worked on maintaining the university's athletics archives and served as department historian.
During his spare time, Harris and Manning co-authored two books, Six Seasons Remembered--The National Championship Years of Tennessee Football, and Once a Vol, Always a Vol. Manning was hired by Neyland in 1951, preceding Harris as UT's Sports Information Director before becoming Neyland's administrative assistant.
"I have been privileged to work under one of the most respected men in the sports information field and also be a part of a time in collegiate sports history that most likely will never occur again," said Bud Ford, Harris' longtime assistant who succeeded him in 2000.
"Since 1950, the job of the Sports Information Director and promoting men's sports at the University of Tennessee has been held by a graduate of UT: Lindsey Nelson in 1950, Gus Manning from 1951-60 and Haywood Harris from 1961-2000. "If you add in the 10 years I have been privileged to serve in that position, that is a total of 60 years at one school by alumni who totally dedicated themselves to the university in every way. No one could have asked for a better role model than I have had while working under the guidance and direction of Haywood Harris. It's tough to put my feelings about him into words--that was his specialty."
Harris is survived by his wife, the former Carolyn Jo West. They have three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Rose Mortuary-Mann Heritage Chapel (6200 Kingston Pike) is in charge of funeral arrangements, which are pending.