Do you realize what happened today? Do you understand the magnitude of today’s news? This afternoon, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announced his pending retirement, effective July 31, 2015. I didn’t know until a few hours after the information became official on SECSports.com. During practice, I could feel my phone buzzing in my jacket pocket, but I didn’t realize that the device was trying to tell me news that I had been expecting for a while now, yet still didn’t want to accept.
I wish that I could say I remember the first time I met Commissioner Slive; however, I really don’t. For a lot of my young life, since I was lucky enough to attend the SEC Football Championship and SEC Basketball Tournament every year, he was there. Always a gentleman, Commissioner never passed by without a hello, out-stretched hand, and a smile. Slive came in to lead the conference in the summer of 2002, replacing the amazing Roy Kramer. Slive had huge shoes to fill, a fact that didn’t phase him one bit. I know this because once he came, things began happening. Now, over the almost 13 year span of Slive’s tenure, the league has notched 67 national championships in 15 sports, including the unbelievable feat of seven consecutive college football BCS National titles. Also in those 12 and a half years, Commissioner Slive oversaw the launch of the SEC Network, the addition of two new universities to the SEC (Texas A&M and Missouri), and numerous committees including the NCAA Basketball Tournament Committee in 08-09. Oh, and don’t forget that during his tenure he also saw the marriage of his daughter, Anna, and the birth of his granddaughter, Abigail. For as long as I can remember, he has been the face of the conference. Commissioner Slive has always been there on the sidelines, watching the action diligently with Anna nearby and a staff member close at hand. He has ruled the greatest collegiate conference in America with grace and dignity.
Mike Slive the Commissioner is a pretty impressive guy; Mike Slive the man is even better. He just genuinely cares about you. I remember when I was contemplating leaving Alabama for Woodberry. Commissioner Slive and his wife, Liz, came over for a little lunch one day, and I inquired to the commissioner if he would be so inclined to fill out a recommendation for me to get into boarding school. It would have been very easy for him to say no. Heck, Commissioner Slive could have just said yes, taken a few moments to fill out the forms, and then given them back to me to mail. Instead, in typical Mike Slive form, he sat me down and discussed with me this decision. Why did I want to go? What was I looking to get out of going away from home? What were my thoughts about leaving behind my friends, family, and everything I was so accustomed to? That talk was my first true discussion about Woodberry. It affirmed my thoughts about leaving, but the conversation also showed me the true nature of Commissioner Slive. He really did care; not just about me, but my family, his friends, his staff, and so many other people. I have been honored to work with the staff at the SEC Basketball Tournament, and I have seen behind-the-scenes the way Commissioner Slive interacts with people. He truly is a master with people.
Reading about the end, seeing a date…well, it makes you think about the beginning. Today, I was reminded of all the memories I have had involving Mike Slive. I remembered the time we rode in his police escort from an LSU-Florida game (my first time with an escort) and our car drove on the median towards the airport. I remembered all of the congratulatory handshakes I have given to the commissioner after successful SEC Football Championship Games or after the SEC racked up another BCS National Championship. I recalled listening to Commissioner Slive’s speeches at the H. Boyd McWhorter Awards Dinner at SEC Spring Meetings and hearing his yearly reference to sitting on the porch, smoking a cigar and overlooking the view from his backyard at his home in Vestavia while reflecting on the past year. The tenure of Commissioner Slive has changed the face of the Southeastern Conference, the landscape of college sports, and my life. The Slives won’t be gone; a text from Liz Slive, Commissioner’s wife and my favorite tango partner, to my mom says, “We aren’t going anywhere.” However, a change is coming at the top in the SEC Office. And now, with this change, Commissioner Slive will get more time to sit on his back porch overlooking the view and reflecting on the past 13 very, very good years.