As Good as They Get

Haywood Harris

Haywood Harris, who for nearly 50 years was a steadying voice in the UT Athletics Department, died on June 2 at his Knoxville home. He was 80.

Harris served as the sports information director for the Athletics Department from 1961 to 2000, and he stayed on as a sports historian after his retirement in 2000. Along with his predecessor and lifelong friend Gus Manning, Harris co-wrote two books on UT football history, Six Seasons Remembered: The National Championship Years of Tennessee Football in 2004, and Once a Vol, Always a Vol! The Proud Men of the Volunteer Nation in 2006. He and Manning also co-hosted one of the nation’s longest-running sports radio programs, The Locker Room, on Saturday game days right up through the 2009 season.

Gen. Robert R. Neyland appointed Harris the sports information director in January 1961, after Manning left the position to become Neyland’s administrative assistant.

“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, his friends, and especially his political party. And he detested the New York Yankees.”

Interim President Jan Simek also expressed his regret at Harris’ passing. “Haywood Harris represented his alma mater extremely well on a broad national scope for many years. He earned unparalleled respect and admiration among his peers in a challenging and competitive arena. The University of Tennessee owes him a debt of gratitude for his service, his loyalty, and his achievements. His contributions to the university in all of those areas will be greatly missed,” Simek stated.

Harris was born August 26, 1929, in Maryville, Tennessee. He graduated from Knoxville High School in 1947 and the University of Tennessee in 1951. After graduation, Harris worked for the Knoxville Journal and the Charlotte Observer before returning as UT’s alumni field secretary in 1959. In 1982, Inside Sports magazine listed Harris as one of the top five publicists in the nation.

Ron Higgins, SEC football reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, said that Harris was not only “the consummate professional” in the sports information world but also a genuinely friendly man.

“Haywood never met a stranger. And if he did, he wasn’t a stranger for too long. He had a way about him; maybe it was that smooth East Tennessee voice that automatically put you at ease. Tennessee coaches that sought counsel from Haywood about how to handle a media situation learned some lessons that always stuck with them,” Higgins said.

“There has never been a better person than Haywood Harris, and never will be,” said Johnny Majors, former tailback for UT who returned to his alma mater as its head football coach. “He was honest and loyal to the core to the University of Tennessee and to the great country he lived in. . . . He was intelligent in every way imaginable, and he knew the English language in an impeccable manner.”

Former UT quarterback Peyton Manning, now with the Indianapolis Colts, added, “Like many others, I will dearly miss Haywood. I am very honored to have known him and proud to have called him my friend. He was always very upbeat and impeccably dressed every time I saw him. He was just one of those guys who made you feel good when you were around him.”

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.

“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.

Harris is survived by his wife, the former Carolyn Jo West. They have three children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

2 Comments on “As Good as They Get

  1. In 1960 I became president of the Hamilton County UT alumni club. Haywood came into the alumni organization with John Smartt and really helped to promote UT as we developed the second largest club (second only to Knoxville). Haywood was always easy to work with and a person you were proud to associate with Tennessee.
    Also, for those that can remember the early 60’s, Ed Bolin came in to work with Andy Holt and made a great team to grow the University.

  2. I came to UT in 1972 on football scholarship following my two older brothers Bob and Tom. Haywood always spoke to me and was one of those kind , humble men that I always enjoyed being around. I loved my years at UT and Haywood Harris was one of the fine gentlemen that help make the experience a good memory.

    Paul Johnson