Former University of Miami President Tad Foote dies at 78

Under tenure, Foote improved school's profile but drew ire of football coach

Former University of Miami President Tad Foote died Monday at the age of 78.
Former University of Miami President Tad Foote died Monday at the age of 78. (University of Miami)

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Tad Foote, who served as University of Miami president during the football team's rise to prominence and was publicly vilified by former coach Jimmy Johnson, died Monday at the age of 78, the school announced in a news release.

Foote spent more than two decades presiding over the Coral Gables school from 1981 to 2001.

"President Foote's tenure as president from 1981 to 2001 was marked by a far-reaching and rigorous pursuit of academic excellence that helped to distinguish our students and faculty among the finest in the nation," current President Julio Frenk said.

Foote was instrumental in raising Miami's academic profile in the 1980s, increasing the standards of incoming students. He also increased sponsored research conducted by university professors and scientists, added more full-time faculty members and created three new colleges during his tenure.

Miami's baseball team won three College World Series titles while he was at the helm, and the football team won four national championships -- in 1983 under Howard Schnellenberger, in 1987 under Johnson and in 1989 and 1991 under Dennis Erickson.

But Foote also famously butted heads with Johnson, who lambasted him in a 1993 autobiography and said he almost quit because of Foote.

A chapter of Johnson's book, "Turning the Thing Around," was titled, "We Beat the World: Florida, Florida State, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Foote."

Johnson, who came to Miami in 1984 and eventually left for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, wrote that Foote pledged to extend his contract before the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, but he claimed that Foote reneged after Miami's 14-10 loss to Penn State and a barrage of national criticism about his team's behavior leading up to the game.

The Hurricanes were No. 1 and undefeated behind Heisman Memorial Trophy winning-quarterback Vinny Testaverde, but the Hurricanes were hampered by seven turnovers that cost them the national championship. On the flight to Arizona, the Hurricanes changed into military-style fatigues and incensed many with their perceived "thug" image.

Foote made Johnson's team adhere to a 42-page code of conduct the next season.

A few days after the Fiesta Bowl loss, Johnson took a veiled shot at Foote while apologizing for his team's behavior.

"I am extremely proud of our football team," Johnson said at the time. "I'm happy that our graduation rate has more than doubled, that we have as fine a drug testing program as there is and that we have complied with NCAA rules in all areas. But if we are only 95 percent right, that means we still have more work to do."

Foote "was not a big enough reason to leave Miami," Johnson said. "But he was enough to add to the attraction of the NFL."

Frenk said Foote and his wife "made Miami their home, and we are a far better and stronger institution and community thanks to them."

Donna Shalala, who succeeded Foote as president upon his resignation, called Foote "a remarkable leader and a real gentleman."

"The university improved greatly under his tenure," she said.