Haywood Harris

In the 36 years since I began writing sports for The Knoxville Journal in 1974, I have not met a better man than Haywood Harris.

Haywood, who died this week at age 80, truly was one of a kind. I never heard him cuss. I never saw him flustered. I never sensed he was anything but content. The guy was unflappable, even though his long-time job as Tennessee's sports information director - dealing with a bunch of whiny media types - surely tested his mettle and tried his patience.

Tennessee had some great football seasons and some lousy football seasons during the 36 years I knew him but you never could tell from Haywood's countenance which was the case. You never could tell if he was having a great day or a lousy day, either. The guy was irrevocably pleasant.

The thing I liked best about Haywood, though, was his keen sense of humor. He was one of the cleverest people I've ever met, blessed with the delivery and timing of a professional comedian.

I remember Haywood and I were leaving football practice one day in the late 1980s when I stopped to ask head coach Johnny Majors a question. After answering in considerable detail, Majors grinned mischievously at me and quipped: "I should've been a sports writer. You watch football practice, ask the coach a few questions, write a little article, then you're done for the day."

I had a very cordial relationship with Coach Majors, so I quickly answered his wisecrack with one of my own.

"I don't think you'd want my job, Coach," I said, trying hard not to smirk. "You only have to deal with Ron McMahan (The Journal editor who voiced strong opinions about how the football program should be run) once or twice a year. I have to deal with him every day."

Majors paused thoughtfully, glanced at Haywood, then deadpanned: "I should've been a sports information director."

Haywood, of course, laughed heartily at the joke. When Coach Majors was out of earshot, however, Haywood leaned toward me, flashed a smug grin and said, "Yeah, then I could drive HIM crazy."

Anyone who ever met Haywood Harris knows that comment was made purely in fun, without a hint of malice. That was Haywood's nature - a friendly soul who found humor almost everywhere he looked. He shared that cheerful outlook with thousands of people throughout his life.

I'm thankful to God that, for 36 years, he shared that cheerful outlook with me.

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