Former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors once said of Bud Ford, “He never has an opinion. He won’t get to the point.”
Of course, Majors burst out laughing after uttering those words because they couldn’t have been further from the truth when describing Ford, the longtime UT Media Relations Director who announced his retirement this week effective at the end of December.
A Knoxville native and 45-year veteran of his profession, Ford always let it be known that he stood for integrity, passion and tradition when it came to his beloved University of Tennessee. And he displayed those traits every day to head coaches, student assistants, media representatives and fans alike.
“Bud Ford loves Tennessee with a passion that shows through in the way he does his job,” UT legend Phillip Fulmer said. “He was always helpful to me as a player, assistant, and especially as the head coach. Whatever the situation, you could be sure he always was protective of the integrity, tradition and image that makes Tennessee football special.”
Ford, 66, is moving into the position of Athletics Department Historian beginning Jan. 1, 2012, and plans to keep serving as a mentor to those in the UT family.
“The history of Tennessee athletics has always intrigued me.” Ford said. “During my whole career, I have constantly gathered historical facts and figures to preserve this ongoing picture in my mind of what UT athletics was. I’ve certainly enjoyed the opportunity to work with a lot of great athletes, student workers and employees through these many years.”
Included in that group is Peyton Manning, who from 1994-97 became an iconic figure in the Volunteer State.
“Bud is simply the best in the business,” said Manning, who leaned on Ford for advice during his celebrated UT career. “I will always be indebted to Bud Ford, and I am honored to call him my friend.”
Ford, who was hired straight out of college by athletics director Bob Woodruff, also worked under Doug Dickey and Mike Hamilton. He advised and supported six UT football head coaches -- Dickey, Bill Battle, Majors, Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley.
Majors leaned on Ford and Haywood Harris for 17 years, and the Tennessee bond was strong between coach and publicity men from the start.
“Bud Ford is one of the most valuable people to an athletics department I have ever known,” Majors said. “I’ve worked with some mighty good people, and Bud Ford is as good as they come. You just can’t beat him.
“He is honest and loyal to the highest degree and has great integrity. He is extremely efficient and knowledgeable about his profession, and has been invaluable to me and to anyone else who worked with him at the University of Tennessee. He also was invaluable to the many sportscasters, writers and media around the country.”
Majors appreciated Ford’s frankness when it mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to joke around with his publicity man after the crisis had passed.
“Bud is one of the most straight-forward people I have ever known, and I’ve often kidded him by saying, ‘Bud, why don’t you ever get to the point? Why don’t you just say it like it is?’ He will give you the answer he believes in and he will shoot straight from the hip as much as anybody I’ve ever known.
“You never had to read between the lines of what he said because he was very plain-spoken.”
Ford was promoted to his current position of Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations in April 2000. Before that, Ford served as primary men’s basketball contact from 1966-85, during the Ray Mears and Don DeVoe eras, spent 13 years as UT’s Sports Information Director, and then was promoted to Assistant AD for Sports Information.
Those positions were just rewards for the work Ford began when he was named the school’s first full-time Assistant SID under CoSIDA Hall of Fame member Haywood Harris.
“I was privileged to work under one of the most respected men in the sports information field and also be part of a time in collegiate sports history that will most likely never occur again,” Ford said of Harris, who died last June and with whom he teamed for 35 years.
“Since 1950, the job of the Sports Information Director promoting men’s sports has been held by a graduate of the University of Tennessee. Lindsey Nelson, 1950; Gus Manning, 1951-60; and Haywood Harris, 1961-2000 -- if you add in the 11 years I have been privileged to serve in that position, that is a total of 61 years at one school by alumni who totally dedicated themselves to their University in every way,” Ford said.
Ford himself was inducted into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame in 2001 and later received the prestigious Arch Ward Award in 2006 for outstanding contributions to the field of sports information.
“For more than four decades, Bud Ford as much as anyone has embodied the spirit of the Tennessee Vols -- loyal student and staff member, man of integrity, gracious host, and sports information professional whose daily decisions were always based on what he believed was in the best interest of his alma mater,” said Georgia’s Claude Felton, Ford’s longtime associate and friend in the SEC media relations field.
Ford and longtime UT women’s media relations director Debby Jennings helped build the Tennessee brand and worked with an expanded staff of full-time and student employees in meeting the needs of the media who covered the Vols and Lady Vols.
“Just like the Orange and White checkerboard in Neyland Stadium, Bud Ford has been woven into the fabric of the University of Tennessee athletics department his entire life,” Jennings said. “For more than 40 years, he has had an amazing lifelong impact on UT athletics in ways that can never be quantified.
“Bud is a Tennessee man through and through and a walking encyclopedia of UT sports. During his career in sports information, he will tell you he always put the success of the Vol student-athlete first and foremost.”
Also a member of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame and Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, Ford in 2005 was made an honorary member of the UT Lettermen’s T-Club for his faithful service to the athletics department.
“Derek Dooley may have coined the term Vol for Life, but Bud Ford exemplifies it,” said Hamilton, who took over as UT men’s AD in 2003. “No one has been more loyal to their alma mater or fought harder for it than Bud Ford. His wealth of knowledge and institutional culture have been invaluable, and we look forward to him continuing to lead us in that area in his new role as historian.”
Ford’s primary duty as historian will be to reorganize all existing records of athletic competition in all sports in preparation for moving them into the archive storage area of the media relations office in the new Football Training Center. He also hopes to compile, edit and produce an all-time sports records book for the UT athletics department.
“For the last 45 years, I have seen it as my duty to make sure history was chronicled and properly catalogued in a way that it can be useful for many future years,” he said.
In addition, Ford will serve as the contact for historical questions regarding teams, coaches and student-athletes, and be available to answer inquiries and correspondence received by the athletics department.
“The job is ever-changing, and that presents new challenges,” Ford said. “Even though I have grown older with each passing sports season, the athletes I work with still remain the same age, 18-21. They keep you on your toes and forever young in your thinking.”
Ford graduated from West High School in 1962 and from UT in 1966. He and his wife, Sandra, reside in the Halls Crossroads community of North Knoxville and have been longtime members of Salem Baptist Church. They have two grown children -- Brent, a graduate of UT, and Julie, who completed her teaching degree at Carson-Newman College and master’s at Lincoln Memorial University.
What they are saying about Bud Ford:
“Bud Ford was typical of the heart and soul of Tennessee Athletics. He bled orange, wore orange, and probably sang Rocky Top in the shower. His work ethic for UT was amazing. Bud stayed ahead of the media curve and was always available to lend a hand to anyone who needed it. He knew his role and his business and did both with extraordinary passion.”
Charles Bloom, SEC
“Bud’s commitment to the principles of honesty, loyalty, fairness and hard work has made him one of the most respected people in athletics media relations. He has also taught these principles to the many people who have been under his tutelage and have gone on to outstanding careers themselves. Because of this, Bud’s impact has been felt not only at the University of Tennessee but in the Southeastern Conference and all across the nation.”
Charlie Fiss, AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic
“The influence Bud has had on me and thousands of others in collegiate athletics has been immense. For me personally, he has been a guiding light. Whenever a question arises about a certain situation, the first person I turn to for advice is Bud Ford. There is no other person in our profession that I respect more than him. Bud is one in a million.”