The University of Evansville mourns the loss of one of the true pioneers in its athletic history – Jim Byers. Byers passed away on Tuesday evening at the age of 79.
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the University of Evansville are with Coach Byers’ family and friends,” UE President Tom Kazee said. “His leadership helped the university through some of its toughest times and led us to new heights. The contributions he made in over 50 years at the university will live on forever.”
Byers’ career at UE began in 1965 as an assistant football coach before taking over as head coach a year later. Between 1966 and 1977, he won 51 games, more than any other coach in program history. Beginning in 1977, he took over as the AD, a position he held until 1997. Byers helped in the forming of four conferences in his time as an administrator while also guiding the Purple Aces into the Missouri Valley Conference.
“It is tough to quantify the impact Coach Byers had on UE athletics,” Director of Athletics Mark Spencer said. “His drive and leadership was felt for decades and will be felt for decades to come. Coach was a great ambassador and represented the very best of the University of Evansville. He will be greatly missed.”
His leadership was never more evident than the time following the plane crash on December 13, 1977. His guidance helped those affected by the accident heal and rebuild the program to great heights in a short time.
Since retiring in 1997, Byers has been recognized and honored on many occasions. A group of Byers' former football players created the James A. Byers Athletic Student Scholarship in 2000. The University presents the scholarship each spring to a junior in any of the Aces' varsity sports, for use during the student-athlete's senior year. The first was awarded in 2003 to senior cross country runner Chris Hollinden.
In February of 2014, the Jim Byers Pathway to Excellence was dedicated in front of the Carson Center on the UE campus. Over 80 people donated to the project, which was unveiled to a surprised Coach Byers. Prior to the unveiling, Byers was unaware of the project. He was overwhelmed by the announcement and the turnout of over 100 people on a cold February day.
Earlier this year, he was honored at the men’s basketball game against Southern Illinois. Jim Byers Day saw him recognized for 50 years of service to the University of Evansville. At the game, he was honored by Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke with a proclamation. He was also given a replica of his #33 jersey from the University of Michigan.
Prior to his time at Evansville, Byers was the head football coach at Princeton High School from 1959-62 before taking over at Boonville from 1962-65. Byers joined the Aces as an assistant in 1965 before taking over as the head coach in 1966 where he led the Aces to 51 wins until retiring from coaching in 1977.
Byers earned three letters playing football at the University of Michigan where he played on both sides of the ball as a fullback and linebacker until graduating in 1959. He had a storied high school career at Evansville’s Reitz High School. His honors included being named a Scholastic Magazine All-American, All-Conference, All-State and All-AP. He was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in March of 2001. Byers was a 1999 inductee into the UE Athletics Hall of Fame.
He is survived by daughter Alison. His wife, Karel, passed away in 2011.
Funeral and viewing arrangements will be announced as soon as they are available.