Hall of Fame Feature: Keith Prince

Sept. 12, 2017

Keith Prince will be inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday, Sept. 29. He joins Denny Duron, Tommy Joe Eagles, Pam Gant, Dale Holman, Luke McCown and Pat Tilley in the 2017 Hall of Fame Class. This is the first of a series of seven feature stories on this year’s inductees. The HOF event is sold out. However, the inductees will be recognized at halftime of the Sept. 30 home game against South Alabama.

By Malcolm Butler

RUSTON -- Although Keith Prince grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas and went to college at then-Northeast Louisiana University, he will be the first to tell you that Louisiana Tech and Ruston are home.

From his arrival at LA Tech in 1969 to his retirement in December of 1993, Prince had the privilege of serving as the sports information director during some of the University’s greatest athletic achievements.

Prince penned stories and led publicity efforts for five football and women’s basketball national championships, dozens of conference title teams and some of the greatest names to ever don the red and blue.

“It was just amazing,” said Prince. “When you do sit back and look at it…24 years, and there weren’t many bleak moments. There was always something in the spotlight.”

That spotlight beamed down on Tech and its athletes and coaches due to the efforts of Prince, who will be inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Sept. 29.

Terry Bradshaw. Karl Malone. Fred Dean. Leon Barmore. Pat Patterson. Mike Green. Teresa Weatherspoon. Those were just a handful of the subjects of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories written by Prince that were printed by local, regional and national publications.

This was before the day and age of the internet, email, and social media. Prince and his rag-tag team comprised of student workers, graduate assistants and sometimes a full-time assistant were tasked with publicizing these historical moments.

“He promoted so many great athletes and did it on a very low budget,” said LA Tech Hall of Famer and Voice of the Bulldogs Dave Nitz, an assistant for Prince for more than a decade. “We had a fax machine and a typewriter, and that’s all we had. It was old school.”

Only two years removed from earning his bachelor’s degree from NLU where he played baseball for two years while working full-time at the Monroe Morning World, Prince was hired by Tech Athletics Director Joe Aillet prior to the start of the 1969 football season.

With a high-profile quarterback named Terry Bradshaw entering his senior season in Ruston, Prince had one goal.

“I just wanted to make it through the first year,” said Prince, who was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. “I had no idea what was in store. It was a whirlwind. There was never a day that went by that we weren’t hearing from someone wanting information about Terry Bradshaw. It was a fabulous way to start my career.”

It was the beginning to a run that saw Prince touch the lives of more than half of the 101 current LA Tech Hall of Famers. He has many fond memories of so many of those people and amazing moments.

“As far as a prolonged period of time when we were in the national eye, it was Karl Malone and (the Dunkin Dawgs) in the 84-85 season,” said Prince. “We went up to Bowling Green, Kentucky, before Christmas and beat Louisville. We didn’t lose for another month and a half. Every week we were in the polls and eventually got up to No. 8. We had SI come down here. We had the New York Times here. We had CNN come in. They all wanted to know who this Karl Malone fella was.

“Pat Patterson and his baseball teams went to five NCAA Tournaments. I will never forget the first one in Arlington, Texas. I remember we won our first two games and got to the finals. We were one game way from the College World Series but lost to Texas twice. He did such a wonderful job and those kids would have done anything for Gravy.

“I can still remember when the Lady Techsters started. I remember playing Southeastern in the first ever game, and we had maybe 150 or 200 people there at Memorial Gym. It went from there. By 1979, what a team they had. We went all the way to the finals in Greensboro, North Carolina, and ended up losing to Old Dominion, but that was really the start of the domination of the Lady Techsters.”

While Prince was doing his best to deal with the obvious national coverage the Tech teams and coaches were receiving, he was also doing his part to help the local media. After all, like Prince, many of those outlets were one-person operations.

“There were many outstanding teams and athletes during those years,” said legendary Ruston Daily Leader executive sports editor and LA Tech Hall of Famer Buddy Davis. “It was Keith’s words and promotional assets that helped make these teams and players even more visible nationally. His contributions to Louisiana Tech, its coaches and players were invaluable.”

Kind words from one Hall of Fame scribe about another.

After surviving his first few years in the position working almost completely alone, the Nacogdoches, Texas, native – who says he developed a love for writing thanks to his high school journalism teacher Hennie Pinkston – hired his first real help in 1971.

A young Marine named Larry White was fresh out of a tour of duty in the Vietnam War and was eager to return to college on the GI Bill. White heard about Prince and the job opening through a mutual friend.

“I drove over to Ruston (from Shreveport) and Keith offered me a job in the SID office,” said White, who spent the majority of his professional career as the sports information director at the University of Alabama. “I was also stringing for the (Shreveport) Times and helping at the Ruston Daily Leader. From day one, Keith was both gracious and patient, but firm, as he guided me through the ins and outs of the SID business.

“He was always there with a kind smile and firm encouragement, even when I was late with a story. He instilled the ‘honey will attract more flies than vinegar’ approach to dealing with people, and that was a trait I tried to carry through my career. Keith gave me directions and assignments and then stepped aside and let me do the work. It was due to his dedication, sincerity and guidance that I pursued a career in media relations. I will forever be grateful to him for the opportunities he provided.”

White’s sentiments are echoed by all of Prince’s former proteges.

“He opened a door for me 26 years ago that yielded many valuable relationships and career opportunities,” said Chris Cook, Managing Director for the Office of Communications and Marketing at Texas Tech; he worked for Prince as a student in the early 1990s. “I would not be in the position I am today without his trust, guidance and mentorship so many years ago.”

Sometimes the lessons weren’t always the easiest to hear, but they were always beneficial.

“Keith pulled me aside one day and told me I had all the talent in the world,” said Brian Trahan, General Manager/Executive Editor of the Southwest Daily News; he also worked for Prince during the early ’90s. “He then told me bluntly that all that wouldn't matter if I couldn't be a professional and carry myself in a professional manner. From that day forward I took it to heart, and I have carried that advice with me for the duration of my 25-year career.”

Nitz, whose relationship with Prince began in 1974 when he was hired to create the Louisiana Tech Radio Network, credits him for much of his minor league baseball success.

“He gave us direction, and he showed us how to do a lot of things,” said Nitz. “He really helped me out when I first got into pro baseball, working with the media in Oklahoma City and Shreveport.

“But I wasn’t the only one he helped. Tom Burnett, Greg Hilburn, Teddy Allen, Bill Campbell; those are the ones I can think of right off the top of my head. They have all been very successful in their careers, and I bet they would all say Keith had a hand in it.”

Nitz would win that bet.

“I’m not sure why I’ve been so fortunate in my sports administrative career, but I've had unbelievable opportunities, more than I could have ever dreamed of, and certainly a lot more than I've ever deserved,” said Burnett, now completing his 15th year as commissioner of the Southland Conference. “But none of that ever happens without the time I spent with Keith, not only learning the nuts and bolts of sports information and promotion, but also watching him work so effectively with people, managing the egos and varied personalities, handling conflict and keeping his cool.

“Win or lose, he never lost his focus on the job at hand, and always performed in the most professional manner, and usually with a smile on his face. Plus, he was always so well respected in the world of sports journalism, and Tech was always the beneficiary of the great relationships he built with the media. All I ever wanted was to emulate him, and I figured that if I could at least get close, that would lead to a pretty good outcome.”

Allen, who Tech fans know from his weekly column in the local Gannett papers and from his part in the Bulldog football broadcasts the past six years, said he can never repay his former boss for how much richer he’s made the lives of so many of his students.

“He didn’t tell us things -- he showed us: how to handle people in a competitive atmosphere, how to pace yourself, how to work with calm and focus in the middle of chaos,” said Allen, a graduate assistant for Prince in the early ’80s. “We sort of figured a lot out by watching Mr. Prince. Speaking for Bill, Tom and myself, if anyone ever had an appropriate name, it was him.”

“He flipped the switch for me as a student, got me focused on my academics, my personal and professional development, and was one of the first mentors that made me think I had a future after college,” said Burnett.

A mentor who turned into so much more than that as Prince’s students blossomed in their professional careers. Twenty, 30 and even 40 years later, these men hold Prince close to their hearts.

“Life is about relationships,” said Allen. “I don’t remember who we played or what I wrote for the third game of the football season in 1982 or the eighth game of basketball season in 1983. What I do remember is how Mr. Prince made me feel: he made me feel needed and necessary and wanted and worthy. I swear I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I am so proud of all of them,” said Prince whose wife Kay of 41 years taught English at Louisiana Tech for two decades. “(My students) had a great influence on my life. It was amazing the crew that came through there over the years. Of all the good things that happened to me at Louisiana Tech, the thing I’m proudest of are my students.”

When Joe Aillet made the decision to take a chance on a young, inexperienced newspaper writer in 1969, he hired an eventual Louisiana Tech Hall of Famer. Keith Prince not only told the stories of so many Louisiana Tech greats, but he helped mold the lives of so many others.

“He was just what we'd hoped for, more than we deserved,” said Allen. “He'd never admit to that, but it's the truth.”

On Sept. 29, Keith Prince’s name will be officially written alongside the greatest players, coaches, administrators and boosters the University has ever seen. And it will forever solidify him in LA Tech Athletics history.

“What a wonderful life I have had because of Louisiana Tech and the wonderful people I have been associated with,” said Prince. “It’s been a wonderful ride. This is such an honor. It gives me that permanent link with Louisiana Tech University, the place that I love. The place I call my home.”

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