The first impression Jay Searcy’s Inquirer sports staff got of him was that he was a writer’s editor.
They came to know him as a “gentle Southerner in Yankee clothing,” who loved to chuckle, a trusting leader with an ambitious temperament, and a man with a warm smile and disarming charm.
Mr. Searcy, former sports editor of the Inquirer, died on Saturday in Tennessee. He was 84.
Mr. Searcy had been living in Tellico Village, outside of Knoxville, for 18 years.
Mr. Searcy edited the Inquirer sports section during the 1980s. During his tenure, the Inquirer earned three “best daily sports section” honors from the Associated Press Sports Editors, and one award for the best Sunday section. Mr. Searcy also served as APSE president in 1984.
His colleagues remembered him as a man “who could get anybody talking,” and who once interviewed Buddy Ryan moments after the former Eagles coach had thrown a punch at an offensive coordinator on the sideline.
He was hired as sports editor by former Inquirer executive editor Gene Roberts, and eventually left his administrative post to cover boxing and horse racing. Those who knew him said he was always a writer at heart.
“He was so much happier and at ease as a writer than he ever was as an editor,” Inquirer columnist Frank Fitzpatrick said.
“He was one of those writers you read as soon as you saw the byline,” columnist Mike Jensen added. “Jay could write about anything and take you right inside.”
The morning of the Eagles' appearance in Super Bowl XV in 1981, Roberts ventured into the sports department for a briefing on the section’s plans.
“Where’s Jay?” He asked. Mr. Searcy was off on Sundays, a clerk told him, and Roberts nodded, turned, and left.
Roughly 20 minutes later, Mr. Searcy appeared, “his tie askew, his coat flapping behind him, entirely out of breath," columnist Bob Ford said.
“He had good people and he trusted them to do good work,” said Ford, who worked with Mr. Searcy for 15 years. “Getting too bothered about it wasn’t in the makeup of a courtly Southern gentleman who kept both the world and himself in perspective.”
Mr. Searcy was ahead of the curve in covering women’s sports. He wrote a “women in sports” column while with the New York Times. Former Inquirer writer Mel Greenberg, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame for his work, still remembers a pivotal moment in his career.
“He called me back to his office and said, ‘What do you think of the idea of a women’s basketball poll?’ " Greenberg recalled.
“ ‘I think you’re nuts,’ I responded, shocking the heck out of him with my remark."
Greenberg lost the argument, but, thanks to Mr. Searcy’s vision, Greenberg went on to be a trailblazer with his women’s college basketball rankings in 1976. The Associated Press adopted the poll a few year later.
Mr. Searcy grew up in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he developed a love for sports journalism as a paperboy for the Knoxville Journal en route to a 44-year career in journalism.
He is survived by his wife, Jackie, and sons Michael and Mark.