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Georgia Tech Mourns the Loss of Dr. Homer Rice

THE FLATS – Georgia Tech athletics mourns the loss of legendary former director of athletics Dr. Homer Rice, who died on Monday, June 10, at the age of 97.

Rice was the Yellow Jackets’ athletics director from 1980-97. Under his leadership, Georgia Tech revitalized its athletics program, highlighted by winning its fourth football national championship in 1990. Tech’s men’s basketball team won its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 1985 and made its first NCAA Final Four appearance in 1990, and its baseball team advanced to the College World Series for the first time in 1994 with Rice at the helm.

As A.D., he hired some of Tech’s most successful and legendary head coaches, including Bobby Cremins in basketball, Bobby Ross and George O’Leary in football, Jim Morris and Danny Hall in baseball and Bruce Heppler in golf. The Yellow Jackets won 16 ACC championships across five sports during his tenure.

However, perhaps Rice’s biggest legacy is the Total Person Program, which he developed and implemented at Tech and went on to be the model for the NCAA Life Skills Program that is now practiced across college athletics. He continued to teach a leadership class at Georgia Tech until recently. He wrote a number of books on leadership success, including Leadership for Leaders in 1984, Lessons for Leaders in 2000, and Leadership Fitness in 2004.

“Homer has reminded us throughout his career that the ultimate goal of intercollegiate athletics is to help student-athletes grow fully as people,” Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera said. “At a time of profound changes in athletics, Homer’s message and legacy of excellence is more important than ever.”

Among his countless distinctions and honors, the Homer Rice Award is presented annually to an NCAA Division I FBS athletics director that has made significant and meaningful contributions to intercollegiate athletics.

In 2021, a statue of Rice was dedicated outside of Bobby Dodd Stadium. He is one of only three athletics figures to be commemorated with a statue at Georgia Tech, joining John Heisman and Bobby Dodd. In addition to being legendary coaches at Georgia Tech, Heisman and Dodd also served as Tech’s director of athletics during their time on The Flats. The most prominent national awards for college football’s player of the year (Heisman), coach of the year (Dodd) and athletics director of the year (Rice) are named in their honor.

Dr. Rice was preceded in passing by his wife of 64 years, Phyllis, who passed in November of 2013. He is survived by three daughters, Nancy Hetherington, Phyllis Ingle and Angela Miller, his wife Karen, whom he married in 2015, seven grand children and four great grandchildren.

“The Georgia Tech athletics community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Homer Rice,” Georgia Tech director of athletic J Batt said. “Coach Rice was a giant in the fields of coaching and athletics administration. He oversaw the most successful era of Georgia Tech athletics and also, through his Total Person Program, has made and continues to make a positive impact on millions of student-athletes nationwide. His legacy will be a part of Georgia Tech and intercollegiate athletics forever. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Karen, his daughters, and all of his family and countless friends. He will be greatly missed.”

Prior to his arrival at Tech, Rice began his career as a high school football coach, compiling a 101-9-7 record in 11 seasons as head coach at Wartburg Central (Tenn.), Spring City (Tenn.) and Fort Thomas Highlands (Ky.) High Schools before becoming an assistant coach at Kentucky (1962-65) and Oklahoma (1966). In 1967, he was named head coach at Cincinnati (1967-68), but left after two seasons to become athletics director at North Carolina. He served six years as A.D. at UNC (1969-75), before going to Rice, where he served as A.D. and head football coach for two years (1976-77). He then made the move to the National Football League, serving as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1978 and ’79 before being named A.D. at Georgia Tech in 1980.

Born on Feb. 20, 1927 in Bellevue, Ky., Rice attended Centre College in Danville, Ky., where he was a football all-American in 1948 and also lettered in baseball. He was inducted to Centre’s Athletics Hall of Fame and the Colonels’ football MVP award is still named the Homer Rice Award.

“Dr. Homer Rice dedicated his entire life to creating and promoting the total student-athlete. He was incredibly influential in the development of student-athletes, not only at North Carolina and Georgia Tech, but throughout college athletics,” said ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, Ph.D. “Dr. Rice’s ‘Total Person Program’ was ahead of its time and paved the way for NCAA programming by preparing student-athletes for life beyond collegiate athletics. Each of the seven pillars of the ‘Total Person’ program continue to resonate with not only myself, but every one of Dr. Rice’s peers, colleagues, and former student-athletes. Our thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the Rice family.”

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, Ph.D.

“Homer Rice was my inspiration to pursue a career in athletic administration when I graduated from UNC in 1971 while he was the Athletic Director. He was my mentor then, and has been throughout my adult life. I had the privilege of serving for 17 years as an A.D. with him in the ACC while he was at Georgia Tech and I was at UNC.  Simply put, he was the best Athletic Director that I ever observed during my half century in college sports. He was the best leader, the most organized, the best motivator, the best innovator. He was full of integrity, decency and class. He was understated and humble, yet extremely successful. He lived his faith and his values every day. We have lost a truly special and positive man who had an immeasurable impact on uncountable lives. Nora and I send our heartfelt love and prayers to Karen and the entire Rice family.”

Former ACC Commissioner John Swofford


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