by Ryne Hancock
Special to the Tri-State Defender
On Monday (Nov. 28) afternoon, longtime University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson announced his retirement as the school’s athletic director after serving in that capacity for 16 years, effective June 30, 2012.
|R.C. Johnson (Photos by Warren Roseborough)|
“It’s been a great ride,” Johnson said in his press conference at the Hardaway Athletic Hall of Fame, “but it’s time. I’ve been an athletic director for 33 years and pushing 70 years old.”
Johnson, who previously served as athletic director at Temple University and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was hired as the school’s director of athletics on December 29, 1995 and began his official duties in February of 1996.
“While we will have lots of opportunities during the spring semester to celebrate R.C.’s commitment and the Athletic Department’s accomplishments in numerous sports, I want to say today that we owe a debt of gratitude to R.C. and Melba (Johnson’s wife) for their commitment and determination as they’ve served the city and, most importantly, our university,” said University President Dr. Shirley Raines.
In the last eight years, beginning with the 2003-04 academic year, the University of Memphis has amassed 18 Conference USA championships. That includes five regular-season and five tournament titles in men’s basketball, as well as five consecutive championships in women’s soccer, including this season’s squad, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Along with that, Johnson spearheaded two major capital campaigns that in total raised $21 million for private athletic department projects as well as one solely devoted to helping the school’s moribund football program known as “Vision for Victory.”
The project, launched this past summer, is designed to raise $10 million for football-related needs, including a brand-new indoor practice football facility.
Johnson’s retirement came a day after the firing of Larry Porter, who was relieved of his duties as Memphis football coach on Sunday (Nov. 27) morning after the Tigers’ 44-7 loss to Southern Mississippi the day before..
The first African American to coach Tiger football and a former running back for the University of Memphis, Porter was hired in the fall of 2009. He became the school’s 22nd football coach after serving a stint as running backs coach at Oklahoma State and LSU, where he tutored running backs such as Joseph Addadi and Jacob Hester.
In his two seasons as coach, Porter finished with a record of 3-21. The 21 losses in 2010-11 represent the most for Memphis in a two-year stretch since the 1981 and 1982 teams went 2-20 under Rex Dockery.
“We want to make a hire as soon as possible,” Dr. Raines said, when asked about the timetable for naming a new head football coach.
“What we’ll say to the candidates is that we are going through a transition period with our present athletic director and will hire a new athletic director in the spring.”
The university has appointed a search committee to help identify the next head coach. The committee consists of people such as Alan Graf, president of the Tiger Scholarship Fund, Brad Martin, former co-chairman of the Board of Visitors, and Willie Gregory, president of the Nike Corporation.
“The search committee will work with the search firm in narrowing down the candidates and interviewing the finalists. The timeline, which I know all of you are interested in, is completing the search as soon as possible but with time for the search firm to vet the candidates, especially the finalists. As is the usual process, I will recommend employment of the new football coach to the Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, and he is prepared to move quickly in the process,” she said.
Raines was asked about the influence of social media and community input and any link to Monday’s press conference.
“I think it is an interesting time to have all the interactions that swirl around football or any athletic program and social media. It’s important for people to have a chance to say whatever they want to say,” said Raines.
“But it’s also important for all those people who care about Tiger athletics and football and were so concerned about things to get on board and help us get the fans and alumni and students back in the stands. It’s an opportunity for people to say what they want to say, but it’s also an opportunity for us to say, ‘Come on back because we’re going to need you.’”