If I had any influence in the Halls community, or, heaven help us, authority, there would be a street named for Bud Ford.
Bud Ford Way.
Bud is a Halls guy and mid-sized celebrity. He has done life his way almost forever in sports information at the University of Tennessee. He has won national awards. He is in halls of fame. He is an honorary Vol letterman. He has helped many who were helpless. In times past, he rescued several stumbling, bumbling sports reporters from blank stares, those who didn’t even know the question, much less the answer.
Ford is famous for attention to detail, for finishing what he starts, for caring deeply about people, places and things. He is, by nature, an honest keeper of the flame. Among thousands of sights and wise sayings, he could always identify what was important, file it in a safe place and find it a decade later.
He deserves a street. The university never paid him what he was worth. It couldn’t. Most of its millions go to coaches – past and present.
Horace D. “Bud” Ford was originally from the other side of the county. He graduated from West High in 1962 and UT in 1966. He and his wife, Sandra, eventually settled in Halls. They are longtime and active members of Salem Baptist Church.
Bud has always worked. In the beginning, he had a paper route. Gus Manning was a customer.
While a UT student, Bud had a part-time job at Kroger in Western Plaza. Manning, again a customer, recognized him and said there was an opening in the sports information department.
Indeed, Haywood Harris needed help for the 1964 football season. Bud was hired for a whopping $75 per month.
Long, long ago, Haywood told what happened: “Bud worked the last Thursday and Friday that August and I said something like ‘See you next week.’”
Ford was a no-show on Monday, a hectic time at Tennessee, picture day, dozens of media types under foot, interviews, the beginning of practice.
“In my mind, the young Bud Ford was fired, gone, out of here.”
Bud Ford, cooked to medium-well, reported for duty on Tuesday. Before anybody asked, he told all about a water-ski outing on Cherokee Lake.
“He was completely honest,” said Harris. “He had no idea we worked on Labor Day.”
Ford was cleared on appeal. He made up for lost time. He attended classes and somehow worked 60-hour weeks.
“He once calculated his actual pay at 11 cents per hour,” said Harris. “I told him he was almost worth it.”
The day after Bud graduated, athletics director Bob Woodruff awarded Haywood his first full-time assistant – without him even asking.
The partnership lasted four decades. Haywood was a gifted writer, a sensitive artist at heart. He wasn’t great at grasping practicalities. Computer commands were forever a mystery.
A lawnmower might as well have been a spaceship.
Bud was less a philosopher, more a nuts-and-bolts guy with excellent organizational skills. He was good at getting things done.
Bud maintained great respect for Haywood: “He was like a father, a brother.”
Sports information people work, officially, for the university, but they are subject to the needs and whims of famous associates. Bud served two terms under Doug Dickey, when he was coach and, later, athletics director.
Dickey said: “Bud Ford was typical of the heart and soul of Tennessee athletics. He bled orange, wore orange, and probably sang ‘Rocky Top’ in the shower. His work ethic for UT was amazing. Bud stayed ahead of the media curve and was always available … He did his business with extraordinary passion.”
Bud was brilliant as Ray Mears’ extra right-hand man. In addition to publicist, he was travel coordinator.
Back in late 2011, when Bud was retiring, others offered glowing summations.
John Majors said, “Bud Ford was one of the most valuable people to an athletics department I have ever known. I’ve worked with some mighty good people, and Bud Ford is as good as they come.”
Phillip Fulmer said, “Bud Ford loves Tennessee with a passion that shows through in the way he does his job. He was always helpful to me as a player, assistant and especially as a head coach.”
Bud fretted over unfinished projects. Mike Hamilton, then athletics director, worked out a deal to keep him for half pay or less.
“No one has been more loyal to their alma mater or fought harder for it than Bud Ford. His wealth of knowledge and institutional culture has been invaluable, and we look forward to him continuing in his new role as historian.”
New AD Dave Hart did not honor Hamilton’s agreement. Hart or the new sports information people wanted Bud gone. He was wounded, but he went away without losing his dignity.
There had been other sad days – when athletes died young and when coaches were dismissed and families of assistants were uprooted and tossed into insecurity. Bud cared.
There was one evening of professional chaos, Lane Kiffin’s departing press conference. The coach wouldn’t talk unless TV cameras and recording devices were turned off. The blackout offended some. Bud was trapped in the middle.
There was one painful professional setback. Peyton Manning didn’t win the Heisman Trophy.
Finishing second didn’t alter Peyton’s opinion of the hard-working UT publicist.
“Bud is simply the best in the business,” Manning said. “I will always be indebted to Bud Ford, and I am honored to call him my friend.”
Bud experienced some wonderful highlights. The 1998 football national championship was one. He still cherishes memories of the three-overtime basketball victory in 1967 at Mississippi State (Ron Widby), the nine flat (9.0) 100-yard dash by Ivory Crockett in the 1974 Tom Black Classic, the 99-yard run by Kelsey Finch against Florida in 1977.
OK, there are a hundred others.
I have a favorite. Last October, athletics director Phillip Fulmer righted a wrong and appointed Bud part-time historian, not so much for him as for the Volunteers.
God is good.
Marvin West invites reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]