Illinois State Director of Athletics Larry Lyons announces retirement
Illinois State Director of Athletics Larry Lyons announced that he plans to retire near the end of the calendar year, closing the book on a distinguished 33-year run as an athletics administrator at ISU.
Lyons has served as Director of Athletics at Illinois State since May of 2013, and during that time has provided an ambitious vision complemented by a fiscally responsible mind for the program. Quality facility upgrades from Redbird Arena to Duffy Bass Field to Hancock Stadium also provide a visual picture of the quality leadership Lyons has shown during his 30-plus years with ISU athletics.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve Illinois State. In my 33 years, there have been significant improvements in and around Redbird Athletics,” Lyons said. “To have played a role in those improvements and be a part of the tremendous Redbird culture is very gratifying. I have thoroughly enjoyed working together with President Larry Dietz and thank him for his support and vision for athletics.
“When I met with him after the spring semester to inform him of my intention to retire as of December 31, 2020, I indicated that I would make the transition in leadership as smooth as possible, as I care deeply about this institution. I will treasure all the relationships I have developed with athletics staff and student-athletes, Missouri Valley Conference/Missouri Valley Football Conference staff and athletics directors, and NCAA staff and athletics directors who I worked with on national committees. Looking back to 1987 when I started, this has not been a job but more of a lifestyle. It has been one heck of a ride and Maureen and I are excited about the next phase of our lives. We are looking forward to spending more time with family and knocking out a nice travel bucket list. We will be Redbirds for life.”
“I have a pretty good track record of talking my wonderfully talented Cabinet members out of retiring, but after more than a month of trying, I realized Larry was ready to move on to new adventures,” Dietz said. “Vice President and Provost Jan Murphy also recently retired after more than 30 years of service to ISU, and once staff members pass the 30-year mark, you have to respect their wishes to move on. I will begin the search for our next AD immediately, but you don’t just replace a talent like Larry Lyons. He leaves big shoes to fill and we will be deliberate in our process to fill them. The entire university community owes Larry a tremendous debt of gratitude for his service, and I wish him and Maureen a happy and fulfilling next phase of their lives.”
Lyons began his tenure as athletics director focused on the completion of the $26 million renovation of Hancock Stadium. The renovations gave a new front door to the ISU campus and Bloomington-Normal community. Besides benefiting the community, the renovations to Hancock Stadium have given Redbird fans a new experience on game days, while improving competitive opportunities and providing room for future growth.
Also serving as campus representative to the ISU Foundation Board of Directors for three terms, the certified public accountant became known throughout college athletics for his fiscal skills. However, Lyons also takes fundraising seriously and was part of the team responsible for working with Jim and Carole Mounier realizing the largest individual gift commitment in the history of Illinois State and the athletics department. He also assisted in the athletics department’s efforts in raising a $33.5 million of the record $180.9 million in the recently completed Redbirds Rising university campaign.
His creative talents in finance, facilities and administrative leadership have enhanced opportunities for Illinois State student-athletes to achieve their goals and reach for their dreams. In the process, those student-athletes have earned academic degrees at the highest levels in more than 100 years of Redbird Athletics history. Lyons’ leadership has resulted in athletics setting multiple department GPA records, including the record-high 3.61 GPA set in spring of 2020. Student-athletes have also achieved at the highest levels at the University and national levels during Lyons’ tenure, as seven student-athletes have been named ISU Robert G. Bone Scholars and 11 have been honored as CoSIDA Academic All-Americans.
Success in the form of conference championships and NCAA appearances has also been abundant since 2013, as Redbird teams have combined to win 24 team titles and have made 15 appearances in the postseason. In 2014, ISU earned a spot on the national stage as the Redbird football program competed for the NCAA FCS National Championship in Frisco, Texas. The 2018-19 school year was perhaps the most successful in recent years, as Illinois State earned six team titles on way to being named the Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports Champion. That finish extended a streak of ISU finishing first, second, or third in 26 of the past 29 years in the annual calculation.
Additionally, Lyons has served as the liaison to the Weibring Golf Club, supervised the athletic training, athletic equipment and the strength and conditioning units, while providing administrative leadership for men’s and women’s golf and baseball. He also assisted with administrative leadership roles with the football and men’s basketball programs and was instrumental in fostering the current apparel and equipment contract with Nike.
In 2015, Lyons represented Illinois State, as it partnered with the Missouri Valley Conference and its member institutions jointly to develop in-house production capabilities at each campus that will provide significant national coverage for multiple sports on ESPN3 and hands-on educational opportunities for students. The co-branded network—The Valley on ESPN—will showcase a minimum of 820 events a year in the final six years of the agreement. That same year, Lyons led the department through one of its toughest moments when seven men, including Deputy Director of Athletics Aaron Leetch and men’s basketball Associate Head Coach Torrey Ward, perished in a plane crash on April 7, 2015 on the way back from watching the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis.
Two years later in 2017, Lyons announced a first-of-its-kind partnership for the University as the Redbirds outsourced their comprehensive multimedia rights for 10 years with Learfield IMG College.
Arriving on campus during the construction of Redbird Arena (opening in 1989), Lyons has also had leadership roles in several major facility construction and renovation projects including the Kaufman Football Building (2000), the Owen Strength and Conditioning Center (2005), the Hancock Stadium turf replacement (2007 and 2018), video scoreboard installations in Redbird Arena and Hancock Stadium (2007), the Gregory Street Tennis Courts (2008), Duffy Bass Field facility renovation (2009), the Redbird Arena Media Room (2010), the Redbird Arena Video Production Suite (2010), the Franke Family men’s basketball locker room (2012), the Jamie Kehl Head volleyball locker room (2013), Jim and Carole Mounier Golf Training Center (2013), Hancock Stadium videoboard and sound system replacement (2013), Redbird Arena LED video board and facia installation (2015), Jill Hutchison women’s basketball locker room project (2018), Horton Field House indoor track re-surfacing (2019) and the Redbird Arena seating enhancement (2019).
In addition to his work at the local and conference level, Lyons has also represented Illinois State at a national level as a member of the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee and currently serves on the NCAA Competition Oversight Committee.
Lyons was named as a Distinguished Alumnus by Pontiac Township High School in 2015, as part of the inaugural class of five individuals inducted for career achievements. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1978 and a second bachelor’s degree in accounting from Illinois State in 1986. Lyons and his wife, Maureen, have two grown children: son Matt, Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Operations at Drake in Des Moines, Iowa (and daughter-in-law L.B., Director of Alumni Relations, Grandview University) and daughter Kristin, Director of Rehabilitation Services at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.