Haywood Harris, who promoted, wrote about and enjoyed an association with University of Tennessee athletics for nearly 50 years, has died.
Mr. Harris, who oversaw the UT Athletic Department’s sports information office and served as an assistant athletic director from 1961 to his retirement in 2000, died Wednesday afternoon at his home in Knoxville. He was 80.
Funeral arrangements at Rose Mortuary-Mann Heritage Chapel are pending.
Mr. Harris continued to work in the athletic department as an assistant athletic director on a part-time basis after his retirement. That lasted until he suffered a stroke in November on the morning of UT’s homecoming game against Memphis, which finally kept him from keeping his office hours as the UT Athletics Historian and from lending his unmistakable voice in the Neyland Stadium press box to identify players and provide stats.
He and Gus Manning hosted a sports radio show — “The Locker Room” — from 1961 until 2009. It was considered to be the longest-running radio sports show in the country.
“I have lost an incredible friend,” said Manning, who was succeeded by Harris. “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.”
Mr. Harris, a 1951 UT graduate, worked at the Charlotte Observer and as a Knoxville Journal sportswriter before starting to work for UT as Alumni Office field secretary in 1959. When athletic director Gen. Robert R. Neyland promoted Manning to ticket manager, he convinced Harris to be Manning’s replacement.
He was inducted into COSIDA’s Hall of Fame in 1984 and received it’s top award, in honor of Arch Ward, 1n 1991. He served as secretary of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted to the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame (1999) and Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame (2006).
Mr. Harris was born in Blount County on Aug. 26, 1929, but he lived his boyhood days in Knoxville and attended Knoxville High School, which just last week honored him as one of its top 100 outstanding graduates.
“Smart. (Haywood was) smarter than the rest of us,” longtime Vols announcer John Ward said. “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.”
In 1982, two years before Harris was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame, Inside Sports listed him among the top five SIDs in America. Inside Sports said of Harris: “Those who work regularly with him describe him as gentle, considerate and low-key, which distinguishes him from his peers. He could teach a course to other SIDs on running an efficient department. If he has a fault, it’s that he’s too honest. He never says anything bad about Tennessee, but he also will not say anything good unless it’s deserved.”
Mr. Harris told the late Ted Riggs, a former News Sentinel sportswriter, “I think it’s important to be at your own school (he graduated from UT), so you can feel that basic loyalty to your alma mater. I’d hate to be doing the same job somewhere else.”
He married the former Carolyn Jo West in 1979. They have three children — Mrs. Carol Mayshark, Jimmy and Mike — as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Harris was a deacon at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, loved to play tennis and enjoyed reading, gardening and country music — especially Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton.
He was an avid jogger while at UT, and he usually could be seen trotting around campus during his lunch hour. When he was out of town with UT athletic teams, he always seemed to fit a jogging session into his schedule.
While he enjoyed UT’s success in athletics — national championships in football, track, swimming, and cross country and SEC titles in those sports plus basketball, tennis and golf — he experienced glitches, too.
He told Riggs of the time he was with the Vols basketball team at Florida, and Mr. Harris was keeping UT’s scorebook. A Florida fan heckled UT coach Ray Mears when the coach argued that his team should be shooting 1-and-1 freethrows. Mr. Harris said he was distracted by the fan and forgot to mark the foul in his scorebook, then Mears asked officials to check Harris’ book. Of course Mears lost he argument and wasn’t happy.
Fortunately, Mr. Harris said, the Vols won by a comfortable margin.
Another occurred with the football team in Nashville in 1964 when Doug Dickey was football coach. Mr. Harris said he arranged for a bus to pick up the team at the Nashville airport to take players to the motel. Once everyone was aboard the bus wouldn’t start.
Mr. Harris said Dickey was quite miffed, then asked if he had checked the fan belt. Mr. Harris said he never knew if Dickey was kidding.
His work took him to the great arenas of this country — Madison Square Garden, Orange Bowl, Super Dome, Cotton Bowl, West Point, Rupp Arena, the Astrodome — and traveled to almost every state in the country, including Hawaii.
And he also witnessed the Vols’ wealth of athletic talent in all sports, as well as that of their opponents. Regardless of the sport, Harris enjoyed the moment — and witnessed many great ones. Among them were 33 bowl games.
“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,” UT SID Bud Ford said.
“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.”