Illinois State University Athletics Director Larry Lyons said he planned to tell university president Larry Dietz last spring that he planned to retire. Then the pandemic hit, so he decided to wait as the university and athletics waded through months of uncertainty and health concerns.
Now, Lyons plans to step aside at the end of the year, saying he now see advantages for the university to transition to a new AD before the spring semester.
“It’s never a good time to change, but looking forward, even given the COVID stuff, because a lot of the planning will be done and then it’s just following through with the planning,” Lyons said. “I think it’s probably a pretty good time.”
Lyons said all 19 sports programs probably will have some competition in the spring after nearly everything was canceled for the fall.
Lyons leaves after 33 years with ISU athletics, the last seven as director.
He said event planning and execution are what he will miss the most. He leaves at a time when the pandemic has nearly wiped out all events.
“Missing a successful event, watching the planning come to play and then putting it on, whether it’s a game, or the “Reggies,” or something simple like a small donor event or something big like a hall of fame (induction),” said Lyons, listing the events he enjoyed seeing come to fruition.
Lyons added he will look forward to spending some time away from the long grind of a sports season and working most nights and weekends. But he and his wife, Maureen, plan to return in the spring to cheer on the Redbirds sports team again.
Lyons said the athletic department has started to implement parts of the racial equity action plan he put in place in August.
The plan was in response to push back from student-athletes and coaches after his "All Redbird Lives Matter" remark, though Lyons said much of the work had started before the summer.
He said staff is working to establish a committee of student-athletes to give them a platform to foster change. It's change the university has started to address campus-wide, he said.
“We will be part of that and we want out student-athletes’ voice to be a part of that as well,” Lyons said. “There’s a big picture here and a small picture and I feel like we are taking some really good steps right now and it’s something that is going to take some time,”
Lyons said coaches and support staff also have started getting diversity training.
Lyons also thinks athletics coaches and staff are on a united front to support the racial justice movement on campus, despite a recent incident in which an assistant coach left after someone removed an "All Lives Matter" sign in the football office.
Football offensive coordinator Kurt Beathard suddenly left the program in September after an incident in which he claimed someone removed a sign from his officer door which said, “All Lives Matter to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Beathard later said he wasn’t behind the removal of a “Black Lives Matter” poster from the football locker room.
“I don’t think anyone is looking at it as something that’s not a good thing,” Lyons said regarding the increased attention on racial equity. "It will be a positive when it’s all said and done because we will have better programming in place and we will be more responsive to the conversations that we have with our student athletes.”
Lyons said he couldn't comment on personnel matters.
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