Dr. Tim Autry of Orangeburg left an indelible mark on athletics at South Carolina State University, Claflin University and beyond.
Autry, who retired as Claflin’s AD in 2012, guided the programs at both universities, and will be remembered also as a coach on the collegiate and high school levels. Autry died Wednesday at age 81 at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
In 2005, Autry became Claflin’s athletic director and took on perhaps the greatest challenge of his diverse career in transitioning the university from an NAIA school to NCAA Division II. He also established the university's athletic hall of fame in 2009.
“It has been a truly unbelievable career for me over the years,” Autry said at his retirement ceremony. “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 reins along. I look forward to watching the institution's athletics rise to even greater heights.”
Claflin 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 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.”
Immediately before joining Claflin, Autry served in a variety of capacities at S.C. State for a decade. He left the 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 S.C. State athletics director, holding the position for seven years. During that time, he organized the Palmetto Capital City Classic and hired Bulldogs head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough. Autry served as chairman of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Athletics Director Committee and as a member of the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee.
Earlier he was commissioner of the NAIA's Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for 10 years. 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 in Denmark, including dean of students, vice president of student affairs and executive vice president.
Autry came to Orangeburg in 1973 as men’s basketball coach at S.C. State after 10 years of successful coaching at high schools in his native North Carolina and Delaware. While in Delaware, Autry received what he called "the great opportunity of my life" when he was offered an assistant coaching position in the Atlantic Coast Conference at the University of Maryland under legendary Terps' basketball coach Lefty Driesell.
Of the move to S.C. State, Autry said, "I learned the vacancy was open here and made a call to the late Pete Hunter, who became a dear friend of mine. Dr. Hunter hired me (in 1973) along with perhaps the greatest recruited coaching class ever at South Carolina State University. I was hired the same year that Willie Jeffries was hired as football coach, Bobby Bradley was here as swimming (and tennis) coach, and Willie Simon, who became the renowned women's basketball coach was hired that same year in 1973. That was the year of the great recruits and as a whole we all became very successful."
Autry coached the men’s team until 1980, capturing the 1977 MEAC title — S.C. State's first such conference title. He was named MEAC coach of the year the same season. He finished his Bulldog coaching career with a 96-93 record.
During those "most glorious days" -- a phrase coined by retired S.C. State Sports Information Director Bill Hamilton -- the university captured the MEAC All-Sports trophy (for overall athletic excellence) an unprecedented nine out of 10 years from 1974-1983.
But nothing could ever top the Bulldogs' controversial 79-78 loss to the University of South Carolina (the first-ever meeting between the two schools) in 1980 at Carolina Coliseum against a Gamecock squad -- coached by the legendary Frank McGuire -- that included a future prolific scorer from The T&D Region in Zam Fredrick of St. Matthews High School.
"We had a one-point lead with 0.00 seconds on the clock and still lost the game," Autry said with a bit of a chuckle. "Everyone asks that same question (how did that happen?). Marty Lane hit a shot with three seconds left and time ran out on the clock. Coach McGuire called time out and they said they would put three seconds back on the clock, but they never did put the seconds back on the clock.
"I'll never forget it. (Cedric) Hordges made a turnaround jumper from the top of the key and that was before three-point shots came into reality. He made the shot, they called the game and that was it. I could have gone down in history (the Bulldogs have never beaten the Gamecocks) as beating the University of South Carolina and Frank McGuire, but it wasn't meant to be."
The funeral for Autry will be held at noon Saturday, March 2, at Trinity United Methodist Church. Dash's Funeral Home of Orangeburg is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials may be made to Trinity United Methodist Restoration Project, 185 Boulevard St., Orangeburg, SC 29115.