Not just a nice guy. The nicest guy.
Not just a capable pro. The consummate pro.
Haywood Harris, who passed away Wednesday, was the total package.
He was the perfect liaison for the University of Tennessee athletic department to send before the media.
He was an exemplary human being.
To say you’ve never heard a bad word spoken about someone is almost always hyperbole. This time, it’s the truth.
It occurred to me a fitting manner to pay tribute to Haywood would be in the words of the folks he served.
I’ll start by going back to 1985, my first full year on the UT football beat. The night before No. 1 Auburn came to Neyland Stadium, Haywood invited me to dinner with one other scribe: Rick Reilly.
I left that dinner pleased that, judging from Haywood’s hospitality, an eavesdropper couldn’t have guessed which writer was the new beat guy at the local paper and which was writing the cover story for Sports Illustrated.
On a personal note, I’ve always been grateful to Haywood for long ago having the good taste to hire the woman who would one day become the mother of my daughter.
- Mike Strange
Knoxville News Sentinel
The word "legend" gets thrown around way too much, but Haywood is a legend. When I first started covering the SEC a million years ago I quickly learned that Haywood was one of the 'go-to' guys if you wanted to know what was going on in the league. And if he didn't know the answer to a question, he knew who to call to get it.
Whenever he found out I was going to be in Knoxville, Haywood would call and ask me to stop by for a visit (and to tape a session for his internationally famous "The Locker Room" show).
I was one of the lucky ones because over the years Haywood went from being a wonderful resource to a dear friend. He is one of those special people who made the SEC what it is today.
- Tony Barnhart
I am convinced Haywood was one of the best sports information directors in America - ever. He was near enough to a perfect fit for the job. He was gracious, patient and efficient. He knew a lot about his subject, University of Tennessee athletics, and cared deeply about the program and the people. He met media needs without compromising the best interests of the Vols.
As good as he was as a professional, he was better as a man.
- Marvin West
Former News Sentinel sports editor
When I began covering SEC sports on a regular basis in my late 20s, I didn't deal with Haywood on a regular basis. But I worked with him just often enough - as a sports columnist in Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. - to realize he was one of the best in the business.
More than 30 years later, my take hasn't changed. Haywood was so knowledgeable and accommodating that he made everybody else's job easier. He also was a great conversationalist and could converse about much more than sports, including something as esoteric as the subjunctive mood (it was vanishing from the grammatical landscape, he concluded).
The press box won't be the same without him.
- John Adams
When I was covering the UT beat, some of my most enjoyable times were going to breakfast at Rankin Restaurant with Haywood and his Saturday morning crew. My old boss, the late John Bibb, considered that part of his game-day routine when he came to Knoxville. The food was good but the conversation was better.
Haywood always has been such a staunch fan of his alma mater, but he always put his job first. I remember writing stories that were critical of the way things were being done at UT, but Haywood never flinched. He was always there with a kind word. He's simply one of the best human beings I have ever known.
Haywood has such a pleasant nature about him that it's hard to make him angry. But I managed. We are polar opposites politically. He leans hard to the right, and I lean pretty hard to the left. I remember the two of us being involved in what started out as a good-natured discussion about something and then things got a little edgy. I said something about civil liberties and Haywood started ripping into the ACLU, talking about radicals and Commies. I defended the ACLU, which really set him off. I thought it would calm the situation if I told him I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU. That only made it worse. I finally showed him my ACLU card and offered to pay for a membership for him. That made him smile. "Climer," he said, "I hate to do it but I'm going to have to disown you." But he never did.
- David Climer
I can say with absolute certainty that Haywood Harris is the kindest, most gracious sports information director I've met, worked with or heard tell of.
Even when I was first starting out in the business and hadn't even come close to earning any stripes, Haywood treated me with respect. I'll never forget when I worked at my first two newspaper jobs in the Tri-Cities, Haywood and his buddy Rhino would come every summer and take the media to this huge steakhouse in Kingsport. No expense was spared on food, and we ate like kings. I was good for a day and a half after that! And the stories - most of them hilarious - flowed like tap water.
Haywood is the epitome of the Southern gentleman, and a Hall of Fame SID to boot. His has been a life well-lived. That's an easy statement to make and to prove. Just count up his friends. And here's a little tip: better use a calculator.
- Chris Dortch
Blue Ribbon Yearbook
Haywood is such a unique man. There was nothing you could ask for in our profession that Haywood wouldn't deliver.
I think the funniest stories involved Haywood and Gus on their longest-running radio program in history, or so they claimed. Gus was chattering on about this guy he claimed played football for the Vols and Haywood, as usual, was quietly trying to place the player.
He never could place this player, but Gus was going on and on about him. After the show, Haywood asked Gus just who was John Doe. Gus looked at Haywood like he was off his rocker: "Haywood, he was our second baseman," Gus said.
Haywood Harris is a person you never forget once you meet him. He was salt of the earth and loved Tennessee down to the bone. Institutions like Haywood are far too few today.
- Joe Biddle
Doug Dickey once told me that he had as much confidence in Haywood Harris being able to effectively do his job as anybody who'd ever worked for Dickey. That pretty well sums it up.
But to Haywood, it was never a job. The University of Tennessee was his life, which is why he was so good at what he did.
I can't imagine a better or classier ambassador, and yet, Haywood had a way of being such a pro no matter how sticky or how sensitive the situation. There was just something about hearing that unforgettable voice on the press box P.A. every Saturday at Neyland Stadium or hearing his trademark, "Hey, boy" any time you ran into him.
What a credit to his profession, to his family and to his university. It's people like Haywood Harris that makes me proud to be an alumnus of the University of Tennessee.
- Chris Low
The highlight of my life - then, and maybe still - was being a guest on Haywood's pregame radio show back in 1981. My dad played baseball in the Army with Hal Littleford, whom I believe was a Vols football captain, and I grew up being that oddity: A Kentuckian who held the Big Orange in the highest regard. And I've always considered Mr. Harris the essence of the Big Orange.
- Mark Bradley
The first day I walked in as a college student to write a story about one of the UT athletes, Haywood and his staff treated me as if I worked for The New York Times. "Here's a media guide. You need a photograph? We have plenty. (He'd send someone to grab the photo file.) You need to talk to Coach (fill in the blank)? We can work that out."
He set a standard for media relations that few rivaled. It was many, many years before I found myself back at UT interviewing players. When I did come back, briefly, as a "visiting" journalist, Haywood and staff were as friendly and responsive as always. He had some new faces in his department, but they were as professional, friendly and well-trained as Haywood could have wanted. Haywood just seemed to hate the idea that a writer would come to Knoxville and not at least enjoy doing the job.
- Alan Schmadtke
Orlando Sentinel and
I first met Haywood in 1986. I was a cub reporter at WKPT-TV in Kingsport, and he had already been the SID director at Tennessee for 25 years! I was just another new kid on the block. After a few years away, I moved back to East Tennessee in 1990 and renewed a professional relationship with a man I have always had the utmost respect for. My first year in Knoxville wasn't without a few bumps, and Haywood was always polite, patient and a go-to source for background on Tennessee sports. I am sure I left him scratching his head a few times at the beginning, but he never wavered in his professionalism and willingness to help.
If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Haywood was loved and respected by all of us media-types. Like John Wayne or Howard Cosell, Haywood's distinct voice and speech pattern were easy to pick up on. His radio show made him a bit of a cult figure around town and even today, it seems like everyone has the ability to imitate Haywood - and it is always done with dignity, respect and, of course, a little bit of humor.
I'll miss hearing his real voice in the press box, most recently at UT football games. I'll miss walking into his office and seeing his desk covered with newspapers from one end to the other. Haywood Harris was a classic old-school sports information director, educated in the newspaper business and agile enough to adapt to the circus often created by the electronic media.
It was an honor to know him.
- Jim Wogan
Haywood's nature was to treat everyone like they were the most important person in the world. As a student at UT, I was working on a video news segment for a television class and I was doing something on the expansion of the upper deck in the north end zone. Haywood took time out of his day not only to allow me as a student to interview him on camera but also to spend the next 45 minutes giving me details about all the expansions of the stadium and stories behind them that can't be found anywhere. And he did it for a 19-year-old student for a project that was never going to air anywhere but in the classroom for teachers to grade.
Perhaps my most treasured memory of Haywood (or maybe I should describe it as one of those lucky to be in the right place at the right time): I was riding on a bus with him and Gus Manning from South Bend to where Tennessee was staying for the weekend when Tennessee played Notre Dame in 2001. The bus ride was about 90 minutes or so, and Gus and Haywood told stories for 90 minutes straight. No one listening said a word to interrupt. I will always regret not having a recorder rolling at the time, but those stories about Tennessee football are ones that I will cherish forever.
Like everyone, you can go on and on about Haywood, but I will just say this. John Ward never spoke truer words than those spoken when he announced his retirement in the summer of 1998: "Haywood is simply a pro."
No one treated people better and no one will ever do things better than Haywood Harris. In the profession, he set a standard that everyone tries to achieve and as a person he has set an even better standard for life.
- Brent Hubbs
Oh, the distinct and unmistakable voice of Haywood Harris. You certainly knew when it was Haywood on the phone or in the room. I don't think I ever tried my Haywood impression in front of him, but I did enjoy trying to emulate this Southern gentleman. I'm sure many others did as well.
He always had a keen interest in what you were doing and what might have been going on in your life. Kind, thoughtful and sharp as a tack when it came to UT sports history. Over the last several years he'd come in along with good friend Don Ferguson to promote the Big Orange. You knew football season was just around the corner.
He loved Tennessee football, its past, present and future. Seeing him in the Neyland Stadium press box was always fun, but hearing him was even better! Haywood served as the voice for the public-address system for the media gathered on the fifth floor. And while there may have been a chuckle or two at his pronunciation of certain names, hearing that voice made it feel like football Saturday. He was our Haywood! On behalf of Volunteer-TV, our thoughts and prayers are with the Harris family. Rest in peace dear friend, I'll miss you!
- Rick Russo
When I began covering the SEC in 1965, I got to know all the sports information directors on a first-name basis. Of all the SIDs I ever dealt with, and most of them were outstanding, I always regarded Haywood Harris and Bud Ford at the University of Tennessee as the best of the best.
I remember one occasion in particular. It was the opening game of the 1968 season, the day Georgia played Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. UT was introducing artificial turf to the SEC in that game. I spent the night before at the old Andrew Johnson Hotel downtown. When I got ready to go to the stadium, I discovered that I had left my credential at home. In a panic, I called the press box and somebody tracked down Haywood. He chuckled at my dilemma and said, "Well, don't worry about it. You're not the first guy that has happened to, and won't be the last. Meet me in an hour at Gate 4 and we'll get you in.''
I was at Gate 4 in an hour, and so was Haywood. "Glad to have you here,'' he said. "Thanks for covering us.''
Not a blockbuster anecdote, maybe. But I never forgot Haywood's courtesy and professionalism that day to an out-of-state sportswriter who was little more than a casual acquaintance at that time.
- John Pruett
The Huntsville Times
My relationship with Haywood dated back to the mid-1950s when he covered sports for the Journal. In later years, we played many rounds of golf with our mutual friend, the late Russ Bebb of the Journal. Russ and I nicknamed him "Hoggy."
In the 1970s and 80s, Haywood, Russ, former Vol Charlie Coffey and attorney Bill Petty, with our wives, would dine at a different restaurant most Thursday nights.
The phone rang three nights before our reservation at an upscale restaurant, and it was Haywood: "Do you want Beef Wellington Thursday night?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because it's not on the menu, but the chef will prepare it special if we let him know in advance," Haywood explained. I said I'd order off the menu.
Thursday arrived, and the only ones who had ordered Beef Wellington at $28 each were Haywood and Russ. I excused myself from the table and clandestinely tipped the waitress to double the price on their checks.
When Haywood and Russ picked up their checks, they hurriedly slammed them to the table, grumbled, then picked them up for a second horrifying look.
Before paying, the rest of us clued them on the joke.
Russ died a few years ago. Now Haywood. We had some good times.
- Bob Gilbert