Larry Terry paused several times to hold back tears Monday morning as he stood at a podium to announce that he will retire as UW-La Crosse's football coach after this season. A short time later, Terry's booming laugh echoed through the Cleary Center conference room as he chatted with friends who had come to the press conference.
It was an emotional day for Terry, 55, who grew up with the La Crosse football program beginning in the late 1960s when his father, Bill, was an assistant coach. Terry played for the Eagles in the mid-1970s and returned as the offensive coordinator in 1988. He replaced Hall of Fame coach Roger Harring as head coach in 2000.
Terry has a 64-47 record in his 11 seasons. He was named WIAC Coach of the Year in 2002, 2003 and 2004 following conference titles. The Eagles also went to the NCAA Division III playoffs in 2006. La Crosse is 2-6 this season and 16-22 since 2007.
Terry said he began considering stepping down as early as November 2009. He informed athletic director Josh Whitman
over Labor Day weekend of his decision to retire and told the team Sunday.
"Let me be clear about this: I was not forced out," Terry said. "I made this decision on my own. ... This decision was not made because of the type of season we're having.
"I'm embracing change, and I have nothing but excitement for my future, my family's future and my players."
Said Chancellor Joe Gow: "This is not about a case of the new athletic director comes in and says we're having a bad year, we need a new coach. That is simply not true. If Larry wanted to stay, he would be staying."
The main theme of the press conference, voiced by both Terry and Whitman, was the football staffing situation. Terry is the only full-time coach for a varsity roster of about 100 athletes; the rest of his assistants are from outside the school.
"Our program needs help," Terry said. "The players deserve more than they're getting. I don't have one other coach in the building, no one the kids can go to during the day. I know nothing will change until I leave, and hopefully by making this move, we can make a difference."
Whitman, who officially started at La Crosse on Sept. 13, made it clear that he is an advocate of Terry's cause to get the football program additional full-time staff and other resources.
"Larry's decision to step down is one of the most selfless acts I've ever been around," Whitman said. "This is his choice. He knows that it can serve as the catalyst in our community and our university to make the necessary changes to bring the support needed to put football back where it needs to be and advance our athletics program in its entirety. It's a call to action, for our campus administration, for our community and for our alumni."
But there are significant financial hurdles to overcome before the football program can build up to two or three full-time coaches.
"The resource issue, that is a big issue, and that'll continue to be a challenge for us," Gow said. "It's kind of like when you have a season that's a little tough. We're going into a budget cycle where the state faces an almost $3 billion deficit."
Without offering specifics, Whitman said he is looking into creative ways to pay additional coaches and that he hopes to hire not only a new head coach but one or two full-time assistants for next season.
"We've got some things we're working on, some channels we're working through, that if they go the right way could prove very beneficial in a relatively short period of time."
Whitman said the school will begin a national search around Dec. 1. The finalists will go through a search-and-screen process before Whitman makes his choice.
"I think we can put together a package that will be attractive to a very large pool of candidates as far as compensation, coaching support, budget; all those things are part of the equation," Whitman said.
Terry, whose wife, Lori, and children Kathryn and Devin attended the press conference and joined him for a few minutes as he spoke, does not plan on looking for another college coaching job in the near future.
"We're staying in the area," Terry said. "This is home. I'm not going to sit around, I'll find something soon, and I'll be excited about it. It's incredibly hard to say goodbye to the guys; I'll miss them a ton, and the coaching staff, but I'm going to write a new chapter in my life."