"It's been a great ride, but it's time," Johnson said. "I just recently turned 70. I've been an athletic director for 33 years. It's a great thing being an athletic director, and I really love it. But it's time. I'm running out of ties and I have no hairpieces left. It's time to move on."
Johnson, who has held the position for 16 years, said he didn't want the questions surrounding his own future at the school to become a distraction to Memphis' ongoing efforts.
"I don't go around carrying a sign that I've been an athletic director for 33 years and I'm 70 years old, but I am," Johnson said. "Most people my age have already moved on. There's a lot going on with conference realignment. There's a lot going on with fundraising on facilities, and I didn't want speculation on my future to be a part of it."
During his time as athletic director, the U of M has seen an unprecedented rise in its academic performance. The athletic department boasts an overall GPA of a record-high 3.0. Fundraising has also improved markedly during Johnson's 16 years.
Still, it's impossible to ignore the state of the Tigers' football program, which has vastly deteriorated during Johnson's tenure. Many feel Johnson never put forth a concerted enough effort to help football's affairs.
He also presided over the Derrick Rose SAT scandal, which ultimately cost the basketball program its 2007-08 record-setting 38-win season.
When asked to characterize his time at the U of M, Johnson said, "Absolutely fantastic. It's been great here," as the crowded meeting room at the Hardaway Hall of Fame building burst into applause.
Johnson joined the Memphis athletic department in February 1996. Before then, he had served as the athletic director for both Temple and Miami (Ohio). He began his career in athletics as an assistant football coach at Mankato State University and made stops at Youngstown State, Northern Iowa, and Iowa.
"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," U of M President Shirley C. Raines said, "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."
Raines said she will employ a search firm to find Johnson's successor. She said the firm will begin to narrow down candidates in the spring semester.