Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson said Monday he is retiring next year, making the announcement a day after head football coach Larry Porter was fired.
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Fans lost interest in the struggling Tigers football team, with only about 2,500 people attending the home finale against Marshall on Nov. 17. Porter was fired Sunday after going 3-21 in two seasons, and with Johnson’s announcement, Memphis is now looking for a new football coach and AD for the Conference USA program.
Johnson, 70, said it was time to retire after 43 years as an assistant football coach, associate athletic director and athletic director at nine universities.
"I’m running out of ties," Johnson said at a press conference, adding he had been talking with his wife about retirement. "I have no new hair pieces left."
Fans started calling for Porter and Johnson to be ousted after two bad seasons, though Johnson said no single moment or circumstance galvanized his decision.
He said he did not want questions about whether he was going to retire to linger over the program.
"I also don’t want my future to take away from anything we’re trying to get accomplished here," Johnson said. "We’ve got a lot of things going on, and I don’t want any distractions."
Memphis President Shirley Raines says a search firm will be hired and a search committee formed to find a new football coach and athletic director. Johnson said he would retire around June, near the end of the fiscal year
Raines did not give a precise timetable for the hiring of a new football coach, only saying "as soon as possible." Raines said she hoped to have an athletic director hired in the spring.
Raines listed names selected for the coaching search committee, but they did not include Johnson.
"If the search committee seeks his advice, he will provide any information they seek," said Raines, adding that Johnson will help the new hires make the transition into their jobs before he departs.
The basketball team had several strong seasons during Johnson’s tenure, winning several conference titles and losing to Kansas in the 2008 NCAA championship game under coach John Calipari. The team’s 38 wins in the 2007-2008 season were later ordered vacated due to NCAA violations.
Johnson announced his departure as the university tries to maneuver its way out of C-USA. He has said Memphis would like to be in the Southeastern Conference, a statement that drew scoffs and criticism.
Johnson joined the program in February 1996, after leading the athletic departments at Temple, Miami (Ohio), and Eastern Illinois.
In the past eight years, the Tigers have won 17 C-USA titles in men’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s golf and men’s track. Memphis also played in five bowl games and 14 post-season men’s basketball tournaments under his watch.
Johnson also hired men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner, who is in his third season and has a 51-22 combined record.
Johnson oversaw two capital campaigns that raised more than $21 million for athletic department projects. In June, Johnson announced another capital campaign to raise $10 million for a 74,000-square foot indoor practice facility and other improvements for the football program.
But the football team plays in the aging Liberty Bowl, which is near campus but not on it. Raines said the school has increased the football program travel budget for recruitment, but questions still remain about whether football team will keep playing second-fiddle to the successful basketball program.
"The best recruitment, very frankly, for coaches, is fans and alumni and having a city that cares about football," Raines said. "The president cares about football, we have an athletic department that cares about football, and so we want to communicate that as much as possible."
Johnson said there has been strong interest expressed in the football coaching position.
"Obviously right now, the search is wide open," Johnson said.