RIP: 'Dollar Bill' McLellan who led USM well

(Bill McLellan, athletic director at Southern Miss from 1986-1999, died today in Greenville, S.C. Athletic director at Clemson before his USM stint, McLellan was inducted into the USM Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. This is the column I wrote 14 years ago upon his retirement from USM.)

 

He can be gruff. He hates to speak in public, which is just as well. He isn’t much good at it. He is, take my word for it, the toughest interview around. And he can be so tight with a dollar that his coaches nicknamed him Dollar Bill.

Bill McLellan would never have made it as a politician.

But McLellan has served Southern Miss exceedingly well as an athletic director. He has guided the school’s athletic program for 13 years through a period of much growth and the many growing pains that come with it.

If Dollar Bill runs a tight ship, it is only because he has had to.

Not long ago, Larry Templeton, the Mississippi State athletic director, shook his head when the subject turned to McLellan and USM.

“I see the attendance figures,” Templeton said. “I know what everything costs. I don’t see how he does it.”

McLellan won’t do it much longer following Friday’s announcement that he will retire effective in June. No longer will he have to spend so much time telling his coaches what they can’t have because he can’t afford it. No longer will he face the constant challenge of competing – and winning more than his share – against schools that have more. No longer will he have to strive to meet the impossible gender equity percentages demanded by Title IX. No longer will he have to hear Templeton and others say: “No, we won’t play you.”

Said Templeton, “Though we didn’t always agree, I respect Bill. He’s a good friend. He stood up for Southern and represented that school very well nationally. He knows the business. He’s been in the foxhole a long time.”

Don’t look now, but . . .

It is easy, given all the growing pains USM athletics has faced and still faces, to overlook what the school has accomplished under McLellan’s wing. To wit:

• After so many years as a struggling football independent, USM now plays in Conference USA and has finished first, first and second in three years of league competition. Said C-USA commissioner Mike Slive, “I’m not sure we would have had a Conference USA, certainly not for football, if not for Bill McLellan. He was instrumental in the development of the league.”

• The football Eagles have played on TV 20 times in the last three years, compared to 10 times total before that.

• In McLellan’s 13 years, the football Eagles have played in four bowl games; the men’s basketball team has won one NIT championship, played in the NCAA Tournament twice and experienced four 20-victory seasons; the women’s basketball team has had seven 20-win seasons and made seven NCAA Tournaments; the baseball team has never won fewer than 30 games.

• The athletic budget has more than tripled from $2.7 million to more than $9 million.

In the end, a job well done

Said USM President Horace Fleming, “Bill’s legacy here is much larger than any of us see at this time. We are still an emerging program, and what he has done is he has laid the foundation.”

It hasn’t always been, shall we say, aesthetic. McLellan often angered coaches and underlings with the many difficult decisions he had to make. He often rubbed alumni and fans the wrong way with his seeming disregard for public relations.

Perhaps some of those alumni and fans are correct when they say USM needs new blood, new and fresh ideas for marketing a fast-growing program.

But there’s always a bottom line. In McLellan’s case, it is that he has served the university well. At USM, Bill McLellan earned his keep and then some.

•••

On Bill McLellan: (provided by USM sports information dept.)

Dr. Rodney Bennett-Southern Miss President
“Bill touched many people in both his personal and professional life, and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.  Our hearts go out to the family during this difficult time and they will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Bill McGillis-Southern Miss Director of Athletics
“I first met Bill as a young administrator at the University of Houston in 1995.  We were together in many of the founding meetings of Conference USA, and he made an immense impact on me at that time.  I loved his straightforward approach, and he was someone whose counsel I knew I could trust and value from day one.   It is an incredible honor to follow him as the Director of Athletics at Southern Miss.  Bill was an amazing man and a terrific administrator who left a wonderful legacy at our university.”

Jeff Bower-Head football coach at Southern Miss (1990-2007)
“Bill McLellan did an unbelievable job for our university during his tenure as athletic director and his contributions will always be remembered. He helped guide us through the years of the Metro Conference and into Conference USA and had a vision and a plan that helped us to be successful in both. As a young head football coach, he had the confidence to hire me and bring me back to Southern Miss and made sure that I had the resources, tools and support to be successful. He gave us the opportunity and time to create a solid and winning program. He was so patient and supportive of me and what I wanted to accomplish and he was an integral part of the success we had. In football and in all of the other sports, he always made sure we had what we needed and when we needed it to win championships. We will miss him and our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

John Cox—Voice of the Eagles
“Southern Miss has lost one of its greatest leaders in Bill McLellan. From the moment he set foot on the campus he had only one goal in mind and that was to make Southern Miss athletics the very best that it could be. Every decision that he made, I know was made with what he thought was best for the University and the athletic department. His leadership helped to grow the athletic department and its athletic budget and provided the resources for every sport to get better. His involvement in creating Conference USA and Southern Miss’ place in it, was one of the most important contributions in school history. He cared about the people who worked for him and their families and those of us who had the opportunity to work for him and grow professionally and personally under him, will never forget what he did for Southern Miss. It is with a heavy heart that we learned of his death and we express our sympathy to Miss Ann and his family and will keep them in our prayers.”

Former Southern Miss Baseball Coach Hill Denson (1984-1997)
“Our University owes a great deal to Bill McLellan. From a baseball standpoint, he lent his support to helping us build a grandstand and press box and turn it into a stadium at Pete Taylor Park, including lights and other amenities to help move our baseball program to among the best in the country. His involvement in the formation of Conference USA will always be remembered as one of the biggest steps this school had taken. For support of the head coaches at the time we are saddened by the news of the loss of one of our greatest leaders in Southern Miss athletics.”

Former Southern Miss President Aubrey K. Lucas –
“Bill McLellan came to USM at an important time in our history. Roland Dale had just completed his tenure as athletic director. We had made impressive achievements under his leadership, but Bill added to that success. He came with contacts throughout the nation in the area of athletics. And those contacts and his reputation were instrumental in our being included in Conference USA. We had facilities that needed improving and Bill did the best he could with the resources available. One of Bill’s greatest strengths was his wife Ann, who made friends everywhere she went. Bill was a determined and knowledgeable administrator and sometimes his direct approach rubbed people the wrong way but they overlooked that leadership style because of his good results. We are deeply saddened to learn of his death and we express our sympathy to his wonderful family.”

Former Southern Miss Baseball Coach Corky Palmer (1998-2009)
“I will always be grateful to Bill McLellan for what he did for Southern Miss as athletic director but also for giving me the job I always wanted, to be the baseball coach at Southern Miss. He had faith in me that I could do the job and he was supportive of the way that I wanted to build the program and that always made it easier to accomplish our goals. I always enjoyed a fantastic relationship with Coach Mac and I learned a great deal from him in the time we worked together. Much of our success in baseball goes back to the support and decisions he made in regards to our program. He did great things for Southern Miss and was respected all over college athletics. The entire Southern Miss family will miss him and send our thoughts and prayers out to his family.”

 

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