Rice Athletic Director Bobby May, who's been with the school in one form or another since he was a student in the early 1960's, is going to retire.
May spent five years preparing for this moment, but needed additional time to gather his thoughts at Tuesday's announcement. He sighed and retreated from the podium before beginning his remarks.
"That's not a very good start, I'm afraid," May said, fighting back tears. "This is a big day for me, an important day, one that when I started thinking about doing this and actually making this appearance, I began to get a little nervous about what's actually happening. Just maintaining your composure is not easy for me, but I'm going to forge forward."
May, 62, will remain AD through June before leaving president David Leebron and the board of trustees the task of finding a successor.
The athletic department was in dire straits when May took over in 1989. May, who graduated cum laude from Rice in 1965 and returned as an assistant track coach and assistant business manager two years later, longed for the opportunity to steer the Owls through those moribund times. By 1984, he had ascended to associate athletic director and into position for a promotion.
"I desperately wanted the AD job in 1989 because things were really bleak," May said. "There were elements of despair and resignation — a feeling that Rice simply could not compete at the Division I level in the Southwest Conference. There was ample evidence of that: 24 straight losing seasons in football; no championships in any sport since 1971. But I knew we could win, and wanted the opportunity to show everyone I was right."
May's first hire, Fred Goldsmith, led the football program to a 6-5 record in 1992. In 1994, Ken Hatfield guided the football team to a share of the SWC title, the first of four conference titles the Owls won that year. May oversaw 32 conference championships during his watch, and eased Rice through uneasy transitions into the Western Athletic Conference following the dismantling of the SWC and Conference USA last summer.
May took Rice to unprecedented athletic heights while also improving the performance of its student-athletes. In 2002, Rice received the NCAA Academic Achievement Award for maintaining the top student-athlete graduation rate in the nation. That same school year, Rice claimed its first team national championship when its baseball program won the 2003 title.