J.R.E. Lee III, who was appointed interim FAMU athletic director 12 months ago, has made moves for FAMU athletics that no one has ever made.
FAMU football is Division 1-A. The athletic department has a contract with a broadcast company worth up to $25 million. There’s now a five-member athletics marketing staff and football fans can expect skyboxes for the next season.
What’s different about Lee? Perhaps it’s the rich heritage he has to live up to.
Lee’s grandfather, J.R.E. Lee, Sr., was FAMU’s fourth president. His dad, J.R.E. Jr., was FAMU’s chief financial officer for more than 40 years and later became vice president. Or perhaps it’s Lee’s nearly 20-year experience as a businessman.
But those closest to the 1960 FAMU graduate say it’s his life experiences and his insatiable drive for the best that make him do what others say can never be done.
“He has great vision,” said Jim Corbin, a childhood friend and former business partner of Lee. “He’s tenacious.”
Corbin, chairman of the FAMU Board of Trustees, said he’s known Lee since the two were in grade school at FAMU DRS. He said Lee is the “most compassionate, caring person” but can be “very tough.”
Alfred “Al” McCoy, who was college pals with Lee and worked as his assistant, attributes Lee’s accomplishments to his “aggressive approach” to business.
“He came in with a different frame of reference,” McCoy said. McCoy, 75, said Lee has experience no one can top.
“(Most people) don’t know what’s good or what’s bad. They do the same thing they always have done. They have never been any where else.”
That’s not the case for Lee, who has worked across the country in athletics since 1963.
For several years, he was an assistant football coach at several small colleges until he landed an assistant football coaching job at the University of Kansas in 1970. After a few years, he moved on to become assistant athletic director at the University of Wisconsin and finally director of athletics at Tennessee State University.
Lee left TSU in 1985 to fully devote his time to radio broadcast investments. At one point, Lee owned 14 radio stations in the South until his company, Silver Star Communications, folded in the late 1980s.
When he heard that former athletic director Ken Riley was leaving, Lee was ready to bring those experiences to FAMU.
“I knew this school deserved to be in the upper echelons in Division 1-A; I just never knew I was going to be the one to do it.”
His background in broadcasting played an integral part in him securing the TV deal with Urban Broadcasting Company .
“From a recruiting point of view, in the area of football they (potential recruits) want two things: No. 1 they want to be on TV every time they play and No. 2 they want to play against the very best,” Lee said.
“And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”