The Real McCoy
By By Blair S. Walker | Photo by Byron Maldonado
Academic and research duties at the Miller School plus leadership of the ACC: It’s all in a day’s work for one very busy and versatile man.
Clyde B. McCoy, Ph.D., chairman emeritus and professor of epidemiology and public health at the Miller School, also serves as president of a major sports enterprise: the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Miller School has a bona fide sports czar in its midst, and he works out of a ninth-floor Clinical Research Building office. Meet Clyde B. McCoy, Ph.D., chairman emeritus of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and president of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). No, that last part wasn’t a typo. McCoy sits atop a sports empire that generates $250 million annually and is the athletic conference for the University of Miami, Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
Having been an athlete, preacher, civil rights activist, and academician over the course of 68 eventful years, McCoy has added athletics potentate to his eclectic CV. He began handling those responsibilities last year; his term as president expires in August 2011.
“When I was inducted as the president of the ACC, I actually said: ‘This is a dream that I couldn’t have even dreamt,’” McCoy says with an Appalachian twang evocative of his Grady, Virginia, roots. “It’s so far afield, but what an ideal position! I’ve been a jock my whole life; I love sports. My wife says to this day, ‘You should have been a coach.’”
Back in 2003, when UM announced it was leaving the Big East Conference for the ACC, McCoy was chairman of epidemiology and public health as well as director of the Comprehensive Drug Research Center. He still holds the latter position, as he has since the drug-abuse research facility opened in 1974.
A descendant of the McCoys who were notoriously embroiled in the Hatfield-McCoy feud in Kentucky and West Virginia in the late 1800s, McCoy was a jock of all trades who competed in track, football, and basketball as a high school student in Norfolk, Virginia. While earning two theology degrees from the University of Cincinnati, McCoy was a first-stringer on the school’s basketball and baseball teams. He’s also on Cincinnati’s Wall of Honor as a distinguished alumnus.
Clearly a yen for competition is embedded in McCoy’s DNA, along with an inclination to fight for what he believes in. The son of a lay minister, McCoy followed in his father’s footsteps and became a minister after earning his graduate degree in theology.
However, his religious career crashed and burned following an impassioned talk from the pulpit of a Norfolk house of worship. “I became disillusioned,” McCoy says, still looking disgusted 46 years later. “I was fired for preaching a sermon on race. I was reading from the book of Philemon, which says, ‘You have no choice but to treat everybody as a brother.’”
Swearing off organized religion, McCoy earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in sociology from the University of Cincinnati.
At any given time, a million and one things are vying for the ACC president’s attention—hardly surprising since the conference oversees baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, field hockey, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball for the 12 schools under its aegis.
Still, a couple of objectives have percolated to the top of McCoy’s to-do list—among them making sure student athletes receive top-notch educations.
“That still is not where it should be, so I really want to push that,” he says. “The ACC, of all the BCS (football’s Bowl Championship Series) conferences by far, has the best academic progress rate. And I think because of the way we’re governed, the way we’re structured, our priorities go toward academics.”
However, McCoy is ever mindful of the fact that the ACC is a business. Not surprisingly, his other major priority concerns the conference’s bottom line.
“During my presidency, one of the biggest things we need to do is renegotiate our TV contract,” McCoy says. “We have to recognize where we are, relative to a business model.
“The Southeastern Conference just renegotiated their TV contract for 15 years, and they’re getting over $200 million per year,” McCoy continues. “Renegotiating the ACC’s TV contract is critical to us as a conference and to the exposure that we get as a conference.”
McCoy has plenty of ACC-oriented displays in his office, as one might expect. Yet he also takes pains to point out a leadership award presented to him last year by the late state Senator Jim King for enhancing biomedical research in Florida.
“My number one job at the University of Miami is to be a professor,” McCoy says. “UM has made allowances that give me time for my ACC
obligations, for which I am grateful.”
When his stint as ACC president ends, McCoy is looking forward to making a full return to research and teaching. And to keep his competitive juices flowing, he’ll be looking to maintain a National Institutes of Health annual funding streak that has remained unbroken since October 1974.
To McCoy, that’s every bit as important as ensuring that the ACC stays a championship-caliber conference while he’s at the helm.