An anonymous donor has given Furman University a $1 million gift to support the Paladins’ football program while honoring the legacy of former coach Bobby Johnson.
The $1 million donation will create the Bobby Johnson Head Football Coaching Endowment, which could produce about $45,000 a year for a wide array of expenses, from equipment to salary supplements, said Mike Buddie, Furman's athletics director.
"It could go toward offsetting compensation," Buddie said. "It could go for operations or really any significant need. It could be used toward keeping a top assistant who maybe has another opportunity or replacing equipment that we haven't budgeted to replace. Those types of things come up all the time."
The donor specifically wanted to honor Johnson, who served as Furman’s head coach from 1994 through 2001, according to a news release.
“I am thrilled to be able to announce such a transformative gift to support our program,” Buddie said. “The Clay Hendrix era is about to begin, and to be able to announce this gift, in honor of Coach Johnson, is a great reminder of the proud history of championship level football at Furman.”
Hendrix was appointed head football coach in December.
Buddie said Furman had discussed the specifics of the $1 million gift with the donor for several months.
"Certainly there was some planning and conversations, making sure the donor was comfortable with our vision of how we would steward that type of a gift," he said. "It was probably a year from start to finish."
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Furman, a relatively small private school competing in NCAA Division I athletics, faces financial challenges that big schools such as Clemson and the University of South Carolina do not.
"Having that guaranteed income from an endowment makes a big difference at a school like Furman," Buddie said.
Furman has other athletics endowments but most help fund scholarships. The Bobby Johnson Head Football Coaching Endowment uniquely supports expenses associated with the football program.
The $1 million is invested and only the revenues generated will be used.
"What I love about endowment giving is that endowments make a difference forever," Buddie said. "They relieve a lot of stress."
Buddie said he is in talks with another potential donor "to do something similar in another sport."
Johnson spent 24 years as a football coach at Furman, including eight as head coach, and he was involved in one of the most successful periods in Paladins football history.
“I’m deeply honored and extremely appreciative of this wonderful gift made in support of Furman football, a program that for decades has been a model of achievement and blessed with outstanding young men and whose bright future will be strengthened and secured through this tremendous generosity,” Johnson said.
Johnson came to Furman in 1976 as an assistant coach under Art Baker, and later served on the staffs of Dick Sheridan (1978-80; 82-85) and Jimmy Satterfield (1986-92), before being named the program’s head coach in 1994.
As an assistant coach, Johnson played a key role in Furman compiling a 132-53-7 record over 16 years, which included a NCAA I-AA (FCS) national championship in 1988.
As head coach, he compiled a 60-36 record and led the team to three playoff appearances, two Southern Conference championships and a national championship runner-up finish in 2001.
All told, he played a significant role in 10 of Furman’s 13 conference football crowns during his 24 seasons.
Johnson also served as head coach at Vanderbilt for eight seasons (2002-09), helping lead a Commodores program to its first winning season since 1982 and its first bowl victory since 1955.
A native of Columbia and a graduate of Clemson, Johnson is a member of both the Furman and South Carolina athletics halls of fame. Johnson currently serves on the NCAA Football Playoff Committee.
Buddie and Hendrix kicked off a fund-raising journey for the Furman Football Championship Fund in February with a five-city tour that included stops in Charleston, Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte. While the initial goal of $1 million was realized with the anonymous gift, Buddie said the university will continue its fundraising efforts in support of the football program.
“We are extremely grateful for this generous gift to Furman football in honor of coach Johnson,” Hendrix said. “It honors our tradition of excellence and demonstrates the belief in the direction of our program.”
“We’re excited about the future of Furman football, and we will continue to provide the kind of financial support the program needs to move forward,” Buddie said.