Pillars of the FWAA: Tom Siler (1909-88), Knoxville News-Sentinel

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s  most important  leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 10th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Tom Siler was the 1979 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

Tom Siler probably liked Jack Webb on the old “Dragnet” television show. Webb’s trademark line “Just the facts, Mam. Nothing but the facts.” personified the low-key way Siler approached his newspaper reporting.

Tom Siler, 1979 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

Tom Siler, 1979 winner of the Bert McGrane Award.

“He wrote in plain English,” said Marvin West, who worked for Siler for 20 years and succeeded him as sports editor at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “By today’s standards, he was rather a vanilla writer. He was an excellent reporter and good interviewer. He got the story told very nicely.”

“He was organized,” said Roland Julian, another veteran of the News-Sentinel sports department. “He made sure he had his facts right. Tom was always objective. Some people didn’t like it when he criticized the University of Tennessee, but sometimes it was needed.”

“He wasn’t a cheerleader,” said West. “He was a patient teacher.”

In those days sports editors would run the department as well as write columns. Siler knew how to get along with people.

“He delegated and let you do (your job),” said West. “He would have been a great editor of the newspaper. He had a great feel for news and how to deal with people. He could talk to bank presidents or the guy who swept the field. He could go with kings or commoners.”

Siler had a knack for being there when momentous events occurred in the sports world.

He covered Don Larsen’s perfect game for the New York Yankees in the World Series. He was there for Hank Aaron’s record 715th home run. He interviewed New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig changing trains in Chicago after returning from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.