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Former Duke director of athletics Tom Butters dies at 77

Former Duke vice president and director of athletics Tom Butters—the man who hired head men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski as part of a 30-year career as a Duke administrator—died Thursday night. He was 77.

Butters served as Duke's athletic director from 1977-97 after previously working as director of special events and spending two years in the dugout as the head coach of the Blue Devil baseball team. One of his lasting contributions to the athletic department prior to becoming athletic director was the creation of the Iron Dukes, the fundraising arm of the Duke athletic department.

In 1980, Butters hired Krzyzewski—then the head coach at Army—to take over the Duke program, saying at the introductory press conference that he “there is no doubt in my mind that Mike is the most brilliant young basketball coach in the country.” When Krzyzewski's teams struggled in his first few seasons in Durham, Butters remained convinced of his assessment and gave him a vote of confidence in 1984 with a mid-season contract extension.

The Blue Devils took off immediately, and under Krzyzewski have captured five national championships and advanced to 12 Final Fours.

"Outside of my mom, no one believed in me more than Tom. The Cadet Prayer at West Point asks us ‘to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong,’ and that always reminds me of Tom," Krzyzewski said in a release. "That is how he lived his life—with great principle—and he provided that kind of guidance to me for 36 years. His uncompromising support and steadfast belief in our vision for Duke basketball was integral in building a program that stands among the very best in the country today."

Butters also hired NCAA championship-winning coaches in women's golf head coach Dan Brooks—who has brought six national titles to Durham—women's tennis head coach Jamie Ashworth and former men's soccer head coach John Rennie, who captured the school's first national title in 1986. With Butters at the helm, the Blue Devils claimed 40 ACC titles, more than twice as many as Duke won in the 24 years prior.

Former women's basketball head coach Gail Goestenkors, former football coach Steve Spurrier and former men's lacrosse head coach Mike Pressler were also Butters hires.

Several of Duke's programs got their start during Butters' tenure as athletic director. The women's soccer and women's lacrosse teams have developed into powerhouses and each reached the Final Four last season, and the women's track and field program has moved out of Wallace Wade Stadium and into a home of its own at the new Morris Williams Track and Field Stadium.

"We are an exceptional athletics department. This is not just because we stand for both academics and athletics," Brooks said in the release. "I think it’s because Tom Butters and others before him set us on a good course, based on principles: Hire good people and let them do their job. Do what is right, not what is popular or ‘effective’ at the moment. Integrity is the only ‘brand’ you need."

Butters' accomplishments in the world of athletics extended well beyond the borders of Duke's campus. He served on the NCAA Basketball Committee from 1989-94 and helped push through the $1 billion agreement with CBS for the broadcasting rights to March Madness, the NCAA men's basketball tournament that this year will finish up with the Final Four Saturday and Monday in Houston. His efforts to redesign the Duke University Golf Club helped the course land the 2001 NCAA men's golf championship.

The Schwartz-Butters Athletics Center, which stands next to Cameron Indoor Stadium, was named in Butters' honor in 2000. That building houses the men's and women's basketball program, as well as the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame, which Butters helped create and into which he was inducted in 1999.

"Simply put, no one served Duke University or the entire profession better than Tom," current Duke vice president and director of athletics Kevin White said in the release. "His legacy stands as one of the greatest in this industry, for his track record of hiring outstanding coaches, innovating fundraising models, and, most importantly, creating a culture of unparalleled integrity at Duke that still stands as a model for all intercollegiate athletics."


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