UT lost a true legend on June 2.
Haywood Harris, a fixture in the UT Athletics Department for nearly 50 years, died at the age of 80 in his home from health problems stemming from a stroke he suffered last November.
“I have lost an incredible friend,” longtime co-worker Gus Manning said. “Together we were involved in radio, TV and public speaking. We also co-authored two books on behalf of the UT Athletics Department.”
A 1951 graduate of UT, Harris’ job titles throughout the years included sports information director, assistant athletics director, and associate director of media relations.
Harris was the last hire made by former coach and then athletic director Gen. Robert Neyland in 1961 when he replaced Manning as the university’s SID.
He retired in 2000 but remained on staff part-time as executive assistant to the athletics director and served as the department’s historian until his stroke in 2009.
Harris is a member of four halls of fame: the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame, the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame.
In 1991, he received the Arch Ward Award, the highest honor given by the College Sports Information Directors of America, and was twice the president of the SEC’s publicity directors association. He also was given a Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Service to UT in 1992.
Harris never brought attention upon himself. Instead, he kept the best interest of his alma mater and the job of sports reporters first.
“His whole idea was to promote UT and make anyone he had a conversation with feel better after talking with them,” longtime friend, former SID assistant and current Knoxville News Sentinel “Vol Historian” Tom Mattingly said. “(Haywood) led the way, publicity-wise, to make things possible at UT in the 1960s and 1970s (such as the expansion of Neyland Stadium and the rise of the football program under head coach Doug Dickey).”
He treated all members of the media the same way: with compassion and class.
Whether it was a well-known national writer in Knoxville trying to cover a key football game or a student writer looking to interview a player or coach following a practice, Harris did his best to accommodate each request, usually going above and beyond what was asked of him.
Rarely, if ever, was a negative word said about Harris, Mattingly said. His insight and knowledge of Tennessee athletics and his ability as a writer to give insight to readers are nearly irreplaceable.
He will be noticeably absent on football Saturdays in the fall. Harris and Manning co-hosted “The Locker Room,” a pre-game radio show, which presented information on the day’s gridiron matchup, for 49 seasons. He will be especially missed in the press box of Neyland Stadium, where he provided a play-by-play of the game over the box’s public address system.
Mattingly said Harris was one-of-a-kind, an unsung hero in Tennessee athletics, “one of the good guys” and “nothing short of a leader.”
“Whenever Haywood wrote or spoke, everyone would read or (listen),” he said.