ACC’s Mike Finn receives FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award

ATLANTA — Mike Finn will retire from the Atlantic Coast Conference next spring following a stellar 40-year media relations career at the league office and two of its member schools, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.

Mike Finn

The FWAA recognizes Finn for a job well done in bestowing its Lifetime Achievement Award on a person who has worked with many of the top coaches and administrators in ACC history, as well as serviced the media in the region with a professionalism that has been very impressive.

“Mike Finn has devoted his career to serving the media,” said FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson. “He has truly been the consummate professional. Whenever you needed information Mike delivered. And you knew you were getting the accurate story. You always have great confidence in Mike’s word.”

This award goes annually to a person who has been a distinguished FWAA member. Previous winners are Buddy Davis, Ruston (La.) Daily Leader; Irv Moss, Denver Post; Bill Little, University of Texas; and Art Spander, San Francisco Examiner.

“I would say without a doubt this award is the most significant I’ve received in my professional career,” Finn said. “It means everything. While you get into this business because you want to be involved in sports, you quickly find out that what’s most important are the personal relationships you make along the way.

“I’ve been fortunate to know a great many outstanding media members for a long time, especially in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeast regions, and there is a special bond with that. To be recognized by the Football Writers, an organization I have always admired, is very special.”

Finn graduated with honors from the University of Florida with a B.A. in Psychology, but was not preparing for a career in media relations.

“I worked some in the Florida SID department (under Norm Carlson) on game days, typing play-by-play and being the official scorer in basketball,” Finn said, “but I didn’t think I could break into the business because of the competition for jobs. I had a desire to become a therapist or do community psychology.”

Finn actually did break into sports media relations at Virginia Tech, an independent in 1977-78, as a graduate assistant. He lasted there one year, before heading to ACC’s North Carolina State, still unsure where his career path would eventually go.

“My year at Virginia Tech taught me a great deal about job security,” Finn explained. “Our long-time AD retired, our head coach got fired and our (SID) Wendy Weisend, one of the most respected men in the business, was ‘reassigned’ to a different position on campus.”

The timing was perfect to move to the ACC’s North Carolina State. If Finn didn’t like the job, he planned on going to graduate school. He liked the job. Forty years later he is still in the business.

At North Carolina State, he worked for both football coach Bo Rein and basketball coach Jim Valvano, who led the Wolfpack to the NCAA basketball title in 1983. After Finn was there two years, Rein took the job at LSU and would die in a plane accident before he ever coached a game for the Tigers.

“Had he lived, Bo would have gone on to become one of the great coaches of his generation,” Finn said. “He was also terrific to work with.”

Once when Finn was interviewing Rein for the daily practice report, both were walking down the sideline when a tight end caught a pass and turned up field for more yardage instead of going out of bounds.

“Bo always loved a player doing that,” Finn recalled. “So in mid-interview, he’s left me and is sprinting down the sidelines with the player yelling encouragement. … Our safety comes over and roll blocks the tight end out of bounds, right in Bo’s path. Bo didn’t hesitate. He hurdled both players and kept on going. We never did finish that interview.”

Over the years, Finn, at the school level worked for such football coaches as Virginia Tech’s Bill Dooley, Rein and his successor at North Carolina State, Monte Kiffin, and Georgia Tech’s quadruple of Bill Curry, Bobby Ross, Bill Lewis and George O’Leary. Finn moved to Georgia Tech in 1983, right after the Wolfpack’s national basketball title, and was there 17 years before he went to the ACC office in 2000 as assistant commissioner for external relations.

His experiences in Atlanta at Georgia Tech were many. But he recalls quite vividly one of his exchanges with Georgia Tech’s Curry at the 1985 Hall of Fame Bowl versus Michigan State. Several Georgia Tech players missed curfew and Curry had sent them home, including the team’s starting quarterback and big-play wide receiver-returner. Curry summoned Finn for a meeting to do a news release about the situation.

“After he said that,” Finn explained, “I probably asked the dumbest question in my 40 years: ‘Coach, does that mean they won’t play in the game?’ Curry gave me one of those fatherly looks and said gently, ‘Yes, Mike, they won’t be playing in the game.’ No telling how Norm Sloan would have reacted, or George O’Leary for that matter.’’’

Finn’s years at the ACC office have been marked with expansion of the league in 2004 and 2013. He dealt in all things ACC Football (media days, championship games, weekly releases and communications) and at times the Bowl Championship Series Standings. He served as the BCS liaison with the FWAA in 2008 and 2009.

“I was fortunate in getting into the business to have so many great mentors from Dave Smith at Virginia Tech, who today is still my best friend, to Norm Carlson (Florida), Wendy Weisend (Virginia Tech), Jack Williams (Virginia Tech), Ed Seaman (North Carolina State), Norman Arey (Georgia Tech),” Finn said.

“All of them were or could have been excellent newsmen in addition to working in public relations and taught me a great deal about sports writing and the importance of deadlines. I’ve also had great bosses in athletics directors Willis Casey (North Carolina State), Homer Rice (Georgia Tech) and Dave Braine (Georgia Tech) and (ACC) Commissioner (John) Swofford, Mike Kelly and Amy Yakola of the ACC Staff.”

Swofford praised Finn. “Mike is well-deserving of this highly prestigious award,” he said. “He has built the best kind of career, one based on strong relationships and service. I’m so pleased the FWAA has selected Mike as this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.”

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O.K. “Buddy” Davis honored with FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award

Editor’s Note: Buddy already has his football, but he will be honored long-distance during the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast om Jan. 9 in Tampa.

By Teddy Allen

RUSTON, La. — On the fake turf in Louisiana Tech’s otherwise empty Aillet Stadium, his wheelchair toed the goalline on this mid-morning Monday. O.K. “Buddy” Davis,  recipient of the 2016 FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award, was about to illustrate yet again his determination and spirit.

He cocked his head toward a friend and said, “Time me.”

And then he eyed his goal, inhaled, paused, hit the forward button and leaned into it. Forty yards and a cloud of rubber pellets later, he’d clocked an 18.79 — not much slower than he’d have run it before the summer of 2014 and the stroke and the fancy wheelchair.

O.K. "Buddy" Davis received a commemorative football in recognition of the 2016 FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by .onny J Crowe),Copyright:Louisiana Tech University.All Rights Reserved.(dcrowe@latech.edu) 318-257-4854 Buddy Davis,

O.K. “Buddy” Davis received a commemorative football in recognition of the 2016 FWAA Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by Donny Crowe, head of photographic services, Louisiana Tech University)

So he’s slowed down. But not much.

The sports editor of the Ruston Daily Leader since pre-Watergate — 50 years and an estimated 43,000 bylines — Buddy has been a one-man show in an athletic community that’s long drawn a spotlight. A quarter of the members of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame — Buddy was honored with its Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism in 2009 — have Lincoln Parish ties.

In 2010, this year’s FWAA honoree was even named Mr. Louisiana Basketball, even though he’s taller than 5-foot-7 only if he stands on his typewriter.

“He plays like he’s 7-3,” said Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy, one of the many All-Americans Buddy has covered in his role as a one-man sports staff, photographer and athletic almanac.

Although there are occasional get-togethers in the house he grew up in and owns, Buddy’s main residence since the stroke is a Ruston assisted living center, Room 58. His friends refer to it as “The Jack Lambert Suite,” a nod to one of the greats on the Pittsburgh teams quarterbacked by Louisiana Tech’s Blond Bomber, Terry Bradshaw.

Although he’s now limited to the use of his right arm and hand, Buddy still cranks out his weekly “O.K.’s Corral” Sunday column and 1,,500-word blog, still tweets and “Facebooks” and goes to as many Tech, Grambling State University, high school games and events as he can.

If anything, the physical setback only has elevated his status as rock star. Before the stroke, the bachelor and hometown lifer had admirers like Fort Knox has gold bars. But now …

“If we could have Buddy daily at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum, he would be our best and most popular interactive exhibit,” said Doug Ireland, chairman of the Hall and its Foundation’s executive director. “Autograph hounds around Ruston would be smart to sit in the hallway outside the Lambert Suite to catch the sports celebs who drop by to visit our hero, because he’s not only a great journalist, he’s an even better human.”

In the months immediately after the stroke, friends took turns going by daily to check his phone and give him his messages. One day, the first three messages were from Bradshaw, Archie Manning and former Grambling All-American/Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, who sounded like a child explaining why the DVDs he’d promised to deliver hadn’t been dropped off yet. (They were in Buddy’s room the next day.)

“He’s a north Louisiana guy, but he loves all of Louisiana,” Manning said. “He’s a dear friend, such a good man, a sweet man. Louisiana is blessed – we’re all blessed — to have him.”

“In a business full of egos and abrasiveness and cynicism and sarcasm, Buddy fits none of those categories,” said his former Tech colleague and longtime sportswriter and editor Nico Van Thyn. “He’s pretty much the same as he was at Ruston High and Tech in the 1960s — dedicated and hard-working and likeable, almost naïve-like in his approach to life. If he had tough stories to report, he did it, but without making enemies, without tearing down someone or some institution.”

For years, Buddy has kept this note on his bedside table, a reminder of what he felt his daily duty has been: “Positive Uplifting Inspirational Messages.”

“In many ways he represents a throwback to a time when more of us wanted to see the best in others,” said sportscaster Tim Brando, who lives an hour from Ruston in Shreveport and joins Bradshaw, Bert Jones, Kim Mulkey, Willie Roaf, Karl Malone, Willis Reed and dozens of others who’ve visited The Lambert Suite. “Hopefully, we’ll see a rebirth to Buddy’s way of covering the game, not just here but around the country. His approach was to say, ‘It’s OK to love not just the game, but the people who play it, coach it, and pay to see it.’ ”

The late legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson was quoted in Sports Illustrated saying Buddy “was like a son to me.” Bert Jones still has the clippings Buddy wrote about the six consecutive no-hitters Bert threw one long-ago summer for the Atlas Construction team in Dixie Baseball, before Buddy had nicknamed him “The Ruston Rifle.”

And when the Smithsonian’s “Hometown Heroes” exhibit was in town this fall, one night was set aside to honor a local athletic legend. But which one? Several attended, including Bert and his father (Cleveland Browns receiver great Dub Jones), former Braves-Mets pitcher George Stone, basketball stars Aaron James and Willis Reed among them. Unsurprisingly, they were there to take part in “The Buddy Davis Story.”

Speaking for the crowd, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Leon Barmore told Buddy that night, “We can all learn from you.”

“Buddy has always been known for his humble nature and passion for good journalism,” said Ruston Daily Leader publisher Rick Hohlt. “But more importantly, Buddy has loved the opportunities throughout his 52 years at the Ruston Daily Leader to help athletes succeed and thrive in their careers. His work ethic and love of the game is beyond reproach.”

”As long as I can remember, back during my days as a young sports scribe coming out of Tech’s journalism department, I’ve been sending in my FWAA dues, reading the Fifth Down, voting on All-American teams, looking forward to receiving my directory and keeping up with my fellow members,” Buddy said. ”Hard to believe that the years since I mailed in my first membership dues have sprinted by faster than Lamar Jackson making it to the end zone again.

”But may I extend a heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the FWAA and all who were responsible for making this honor possible.”

Buddy is the one who made it most possible. He has been the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time.

“Buddy has the ability to deal with both the biggest stars in the game and junior varsity with equal enthusiasm,” said fellow Louisiana Distinguished Service in Sports Journalism honoree Ted Lewis. “That is why he has the most appropriate name in the world – Buddy.”