Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson Announces Retirement
Nov. 28, 2011
MEMPHIS, TENN. --- R.C. Johnson, who has served as the University of Memphis Director of Athletics for nearly 16 years, announced his retirement at a press conference held in the Anfernee Hardaway Hall of Fame Assembly Room on the U of M campus Monday afternoon. Johnson's retirement is effective June 30, 2012.
Johnson has spearheaded multiple building projects during his tenure and is credited with fund-raising efforts that have produced three capital campaigns in the last 10 years. Since his arrival on campus in 1996, the 70-year-old director has set about rebuilding or refurbishing virtually every athletic venue.
Johnson has overseen two additions to the Athletic Office Building, which included new football and basketball offices, new ticket and fund-raising offices and the Hardaway Assembly Room. He is responsible for the Frank Flautt Golf Training Center, the Tiger Softball Stadium, Memphis' new baseball stadium, FedExPark, football's new artificial turf practice field, the new football weight room, two newly laser-leveled Bermuda grass practice fields, the Tiger tennis teams' move to the Racquet Club of Memphis and the recently-opened and aforementioned University of Memphis/Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway Athletic Hall of Fame.
"It's been a great ride, but it's time," said Johnson when explaining his decision to retire. "I know you'll find this hard to believe, but I just recently turned 70. I've been an athletic director for 33 years. It's a great, great thing to be an athletic director. I've loved it. But, it's time. It's time. I also don't want my future to take away from anything that we are trying to accomplish because we have a lot of things going on. I don't want any distractions."
"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 [R.C.'s wife] for their commitment and determination as they've served the city and, most importantly, our University," said University President Dr. Shirley Raines.
Johnson was officially hired on Dec. 29, 1995, and came aboard in February of 1996. He immediately set forth in bringing U of M Tiger Athletics into national prominence. Over the last 15-plus years, the dynamic administrator has built Tiger Athletics into a nationally-recognized program that has participated in five bowl games and has competed in 14 post-season men's basketball tournaments during his tenure. Under Johnson's direction, donations to the department have risen steadily and more than $7 million has been raised each of the last three-straight years.
Also in the last eight years under Johnson, the Tigers have captured 18 total C-USA titles in men's basketball, men's soccer, women's soccer, women's golf and men's track. The men's basketball program has garnered five regular-season titles (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) and five C-USA Tournament championships (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), while the women's soccer program claimed consecutive league championships in the last five-straight seasons, including in 2011 when the squad advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Men's soccer won the C-USA tournament in 2004, while the men's outdoor track and women's golf programs claimed league tournament titles in 2007.
While he has already spearheaded two major capital campaigns that raised over $21 million in private funds for athletic department projects, Johnson announced in June 2011, a major capital campaign to directly benefit the Tiger Football program. The Vision for Victory, as it is billed, was developed to raise $10 million for a 90,000-square foot indoor practice facility, design upgrades for the current facility and the resurfacing of the current grass fields. The upgrades to the grass fields were completed during the season, and the squad has used the fields for practicing the last four weeks.
Johnson's previous capital campaigns included a $12.9 million effort that benefitted nearly every area of the Tiger Athletic Department. Included in the project was an addition to the Athletic Office Building, which includes the Anfernee Hardaway Hall of Fame, a weight room and turf practice field for Tiger Football, FedExPark for the baseball team that was unveiled for the 2010 season, the Frank L. Flautt golf practice facility, a renovation of the Larry O. Finch men's basketball practice facility as well as a renovation of the women's basketball and volleyball locker rooms.
Johnson's first capital campaign was previously the largest fund-raising effort in the history of Memphis athletics. The $8 million campaign included an 8,000-square-foot football and basketball office complex addition, the Larry O. Finch basketball practice facility, which is still considered one of the best in the country, and a complete renovation of the Murphy Athletic Complex.
During his tenure, Johnson has created the Athletic Director's Honor Roll, the Tiger Scholarship Fund Board of Directors and the Athletic Director's Ambassador's Club. The Ambassador's Club, which started with two members in 1997, has reached an all-time high of 41 members under Johnson. A significant revenue source for Tiger Athletics, members of the Ambassador's Club pledge to commit $500,000.
In June 2007, Johnson inked a lucrative long-term contract extension with Learfield Sports, which enabled Tiger Sports Properties to retain the multimedia rights for Memphis Athletics through 2017. The Tigers signed on with Learfield Sports in 2001, granting the partner radio and television rights, athletic venue signage, game day promotions and sponsorships, as well as the official athletic department website. Terms for the contract call for the Tigers to receive a financial guarantee each year of the agreement and to participate in annual revenue sharing. In 2008, the U of M entered into a five-year, $11.3 million partnership with Nike to provide shoes, apparel and equipment for all Tiger athletic teams.
A believer in academic excellence as well as athletic success and national prominence, Johnson leads a department that set school records this past year with 56 percent of its student-athletes achieving a 3.0 or higher during the fall 2010 semester (196 student-athletes) and a departmental GPA of 3.01 for the spring 2011 semester. Seven teams achieved their highest semester GPAs during the 2010-11 academic year. In May 2010, 48 athletes earned their degrees, marking the largest group for one ceremony since 2002 when the athletic academic services department began keeping record.
Before taking over Tiger Athletics, Johnson was responsible for directing a Temple program with more than 500 student-athletes in 20 men's and women's intercollegiate sports, including nationally-visible programs in men's basketball and football. He was named Temple's director of athletics on May 9, 1994, after serving nearly six years as director of athletics at Miami (Ohio) University. He had also previously led the department at Eastern Illinois from 1980-88, and was the associate athletic director at Northern Iowa from 1974-80.
A former football coach himself, Johnson served as an assistant at Mankato State University from 1968-74. He coached at Youngstown State University during the 1967 and 1968 seasons after serving as an assistant coach at Northern Iowa (1965-67) and the University of Iowa (1963-65).
An Ottawa, Ill., native, Johnson holds his bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Iowa in 1965 and earned his master's degree in physical education from the University of Northern Iowa in 1967. Johnson is a member of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics and serves on the NCAA Leadership Council. A veteran administrator in Conference USA, Johnson sits on both the C-USA Bowl Committee and the league's Finance Committee. In addition, he is a member of the University of Memphis President's Council. He recently was appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Board.