LUBBOCK — Trophies and awards go hand-in-hand with achievements and accomplishments — things that set apart those who achieve greatness and choose a path only few have traveled.
The Heisman Trophy represents the ultimate college football player; the Davey O'Brien Award for the ultimate college quarterback. If Texas Tech were ever to create a trophy to represent the ultimate Red Raider, I think it would have to be called the Gerald Myers Award.
Myers has spent the better part of his adult life at Tech as a student-athlete, a coach, an administrator, and for the last 14 years — athletics director. Fifty-five years of dedication to the school he holds so dear will end on May 31, 2011 after Myers announced his retirement plans on Thursday.
"It has been my honor to serve Texas Tech University, my alma mater, as its athletics director for the last 14 years," the 74-year-old Myers said in a statement released by Tech athletics communications. "Together we have accomplished a lot since the Big 12 started in the fall of 1996 and it has truly been a team effort. Our budget has grown from $12 million that year to just over $50 million for this coming school year.
"Overall our facilities are among the best in the Big 12 Conference and we owe a debt of gratitude to so many donors in the private sector that have stepped up and made our dreams of great facilities, a reality. I feel like now is the time to turn this job over to someone else and I will be supportive of that person in every way that I can."
While several current and younger Tech students may only know Myers for the recent debacle with former head football coach Mike Leach, there is more to the man behind the hiring and firing.
Myers brought in Leach, Bob Knight and others to help revive the Tech athletics program after it sunk below NCAA standards while it was entering a new Big 12 Conference.
Now, Myers has Tommy Tuberville to help take the football program to even higher "levels" and will be able to see it first hand before he steps down on May 31.
During that time, Myers hopes to help Tech secure itself in the new Big 12 while Tech chancellor Kent Hance helps find a replacement.
"Gerald Myers loves Texas Tech University, and his enthusiasm and hard work have exemplified that love," Hance said in a statement released by the university. "He has a passion for excellence and has been a very successful and well respected athletic director. With his leadership, he has taken Texas Tech to a position of prominence, and while doing so he has been a great steward of Texas Tech's resources."
A skilled basketball player from nearby Borger, Myers was not one who disappeared into the sea of players when Tech took the court against any team. Legendary radio broadcaster Jack Dale of Sportsradio 1340AM The Fan in Lubbock, who covered play-by-play for Tech for 50 years, recalled seeing Myers for the first time in 1955.
The bulldog, flat-topped kid from the South Plains became the first All-Southwest Conference player from Tech in any sport and was a three-time letterman. After graduating in 1959, Myers spent the next 12 years honing his coaching skills before he was named Tech's head basketball coach in 1971. He spent the next 20 years at that position and still is the school's all-time wins leader with a 326-261 record, capturing two SWC titles and four NCAA Tournament berths.
But it wasn't until he joined the Tech administration that he began making his biggest mark on the Red Raiders.
Myers was placed in the position of athletic director in 1996. Tech was going through one of its darkest periods as an athletics program as the NCAA investigation revealed several sports were using student-athletes who were not qualified to play under the NCAA rules. The hammer came down just as Tech was coming off a Sweet 16 appearance by its men's basketball team and only three years removed from the Lady Raiders' national championship.
But the landscape was changing as Tech entered the Big 12 Conference, as it continues to change today. That shows the strides the program has taken overall in the last 15 years. Myers' biggest feat may not be a national championship, but a way of raising the academic standards and quality of the Tech student-athletes. The football program consistently finishes in the top of the NCAA graduation percentages each season while qualifying for 12 consecutive bowl games. Ninety-three percent of all student-athletes who exhausted their eligibility received degrees in 2009.
He created more of an emphasis on the STUDENT part of student-athlete and thus has helped increase those expectations each season with the addition of the Marsha Sharp Center for Student-Athletes, completed in 2003. The center houses computer workstations, tutoring rooms, classrooms, offices for academic support staff and an academic hall of fame.
But more than anything, the facilities are what stand out to me the most. There have been more than $250 million in new construction and renovations to athletics facilities since 1999, helping attract more student-athletes and students to Tech, as well as the top coaches around the country. Among the many changes: The Rawls Golf Course, United Spirit Arena, Rocky Johnson Field, the new John Walker Soccer Complex and the recent renovations to Jones AT&T Stadium.
The additions to the football stadium alone have increased Tech's max capacity to more than 60,000 fans with a state-of-the-art press box and luxury suites surrounding the field that has become one of the most-feared places to play at in college football. The most recent East Side renovations added 29 luxury suites and 544 outdoor club seats that are set to be finished when Tech kicks off the 2010 season in nine days.
The first ultimate Red Raider, but certainly not the last.