Legacy large as Templeton leaves Miss. St.

Published 3:02 am Sunday, June 22, 2008

Larry Templeton doesn’t want to talk about his legacy at Mississippi State. He’ll leave others to do that.

Take a look at athletic facilities around the Starkville campus, however, and Templeton’s imprint is everywhere, from the suite of luxury boxes at Davis Wade Stadium to the new $10 million academic center set to open later this year.

Look at athletes’ success in the classroom, too. And don’t forget about Mississippi State’s performance on the field where the Bulldogs won a bowl, played in the men’s basketball tournament and appeared in the College World Series in the last year.

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“He doesn’t get out and blow that horn, but he worked hard to make that happen,” Interim Mississippi State President Vance Watson said.

Templeton’s more than 40 years with the school ended last Friday, when he turned his office over to his replacement, Greg Byrne. Templeton was forced out by former Mississippi State President Robert “Doc” Foglesong, who gave him a one-year contract in 2007 and announced a search would be held to find his replacement.

“Some folks love him, others have had some issues, I guess,” said Watson, who’s been friends with Templeton since the 1980s. “But I think the significant thing about him in all of this change is he’s been an utmost professional.”

Foglesong resigned just weeks after Byrne’s hire was approved by the state College Board and rumors swirled that Templeton would make a play to keep his job. But he’s stepped aside graciously and says he’s made peace with the decision.

“I look at it that I was fortunate to get to do what I wanted to do for 40 years. I got to be athletic director for 21,” Templeton said. “I’m not going anywhere. This is home. This will always be home. And as I told my fellow Southeastern Conference athletic directors, all they have to do is ring the cow bell and I’ll come help them.”

It’s always been that way with Templeton. If anyone bleeds maroon and white, it’s him. Mississippi State has always been a part of his life, from the day he entered the world.

“I was born on the campus 50 yards from the football stadium,” Templeton said. “My dad worked here (as electrical foreman) for 41 years.”

He took his first job at Mississippi State as a high school junior working in the sports information department and graduated from the school in 1969. The only time he’s been away was a short two-year stint at a Starkville bank — though that job did lay the groundwork for his financial success.

“It’s the only place that I ever knew, the only thing that I ever wanted,” Templeton said. “It was in my blood.”

Templeton’s love for Mississippi State was apparent to his colleagues from the start. He managed to do more with less than any athletic director in the high-powered SEC. At a little more than $29 million, the Bulldogs had the smallest budget last year in the nation’s toughest conference.

He raised $60 million over the years, plowing it into facilities and salaries and as many of the bells and whistles needed to lure athletes as he could. He did this in a state known for its poverty and in direct competition with the University of Mississippi, which is about 70 miles away.

Templeton’s fellow SEC athletic directors took notice, electing him to lead their association in 1990. He’s held the position since and is finishing up his term as chairman of the NCAA Division I baseball committee.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive says Templeton has not only guided Mississippi State to fiscal, academic and athletic success, but also helped with the SEC’s transformation into the nation’s elite collegiate conference.

“It’s only after he’s leaving that you sit back and say, ’Oh, boy, Larry’s not going to be here. What are we going to do without him?”’ Slive said.

Slive says Templeton often does more than he’s asked because of his “passionate belief in the conference and in Mississippi State.”

Longtime Alabama athletic director Mal Moore said he appreciated Templeton’s friendship.

“His leadership as head of the SEC Athletic Directors has been outstanding,” Moore said. “Larry’s not only going to be missed by the Mississippi State community but I think the entire league will miss his input, wit and intelligence. I know I will miss having a good friend in the league.”

It’s unclear what role Templeton will have now that he’s no longer athletic director. Plans are being discussed to further his career in athletic administration but no one’s ready to talk about them.

He deflected questions about his legacy in an interview before he left for Omaha, Neb., where the College World Series is being played this week. But he said he’s especially proud of persuading Sylvester Croom to become the SEC’s first black head football coach and of Mississippi State’s academic success during his tenure after athletes set a record for overall grade-point average this year.

“I’ll let others determine what my legacy should be,” Templeton said. “I just know that every day I came here to work that it was a day of excitement and I hope that the majority of decisions we made were the right ones for this university.”