One would think that a championship winning coach at the high school and college levels who became an equally successful college athletics director and vice president, in addition to serving as a conference commissioner, would have retired at age 67.
Well, then you have never met Dr. Timothy J. Autry. In 2005, he took on perhaps the greatest challenge of his diverse career in transitioning Claflin University’s status as a NAIA school to NCAA Division II. That goal was accomplished almost four years ago but Autry still presided as Claflin’s athletics director.
His men’s basketball team won a conference title, the volleyball and baseballs squads won divisional crowns, members of the track team were named All-Americans and Donald Smith became the first Panther to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, this summer. Besides the fact that student athletes’ grades also rose during his tenure, Autry also established the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
This month, Autry officially retired. Dr. Jerome Fitch is currently serving as the interim athletic director at Claflin.
“It has been a truly unbelievable career for me over the years,” said Autry. “I would like to thank Dr. Tisdale and our Board of Trustees for entrusting this great responsibility upon me to lead Claflin University into the NCAA. The time has come for me to retire and pass the reigns along. I look forward to watching the institution’s athletics rise to even greater heights.”
President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale noted Autry played a key role in the University’s remarkable transformation into a nationally recognized institution.
“Dr. Autry is a true visionary who dramatically improved the status of our athletics department. He was not only instrumental in Claflin becoming a member of the NCAA but ensuring our student athletes excelled on and off the field of play. Claflin University will forever be grateful for the example of selfless dedication and commitment to excellence he personifies daily.”
It was the great opportunity to elevate the university’s athletics programs that brought Autry to Claflin.
“The main appeal for me coming to Claflin was first of all Dr. Tisdale’s vision,” Autry said in 2005 to The Times and Democrat. “I like what he’s doing and the transformation that he’s taking the university and I like that he’s taking the next step to take athletics to the next level.”
In departing his role, Autry has led an unprecedented transformation himself in creating a string of success in Claflin athletics. His greatest accomplishment, he says, was spearheading the move to NCAA Division II.
“That has brought greater recruiting, exposure and resources to Claflin,” he said.
Head Basketball Coach Ron Woodard’s teams here highly successfully during Autry’s tenure, culminating in a university best 24-2 record and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2008.
“He was laid back and never got too excited or upset,” said Woodard. “He was a first-class guy – a father figure to us all. Dr. Autry certainly made a great mark on Claflin University athletics. We hope to continue the footprint he’s laid for us.”
Before joining Claflin, Autry served in a variety of capacities at neighboring South Carolina State University for a decade. He left that institution as its vice president for student services. In 2004, he was inducted into the S.C. State Hall of Fame for his contributions to the university.
He was named athletics director there in 1996, holding that position for seven years. During that time, he organized the Palmetto Capital City Classic and hired current Bulldogs Head Coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, whose teams have won multiple Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football championships. Autry served as chairman of the MEAC Athletics Director Committee and as a member NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee.
For 10 years, he was the commissioner of the NAIA’s Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He was a key figure in creating the EIAC Hall of Fame. Through his leadership, the EIAC champions in seven sports secured automatic bids to NAIA championships.
While acting as the EIAC’s commissioner, Autry also filled multiple roles at Voorhees College, including dean of students, vice president of student affairs and executive vice president.
From 1973-1980, Autry coached the men’s basketball team at S.C. State, capturing the 1977 MEAC title – S.C. State’s first such conference title - and was named MEAC coach of the year the same season. He finished his Bulldog coaching career with a 96-93 record.
Perhaps, he will include in his career highlights the hotly contested basketball game against the University of South Carolina. In 1980, Autry’s S. C. State’s team narrowly lost 79-78 to the Gamecocks – the Bulldogs have never beaten the Gamecocks in football or basketball.
“I could have gone down in history as beating the University of South Carolina and (Gamecocks Head Basketball Coach) Frank McGuire, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
He arrived at S.C. State after spending two years as an assistant under University of Maryland coaching legend Lefty Driesell. Before joining Driesell’s staff, he coached sports at high schools in North Carolina and Delaware.