Tom Duddleston Jr.

Submitted Photo J&L PHOTOGRAPHY

Imagine if you retired after 30 years on the front lines of the UA athletic department, three decades of access, insight and loyalty, and on the night of your retirement party three men from ASU's athletic department would drive 100 miles to shake your hand and toast your success.

Wouldn't that say, in bold letters, that yours was a job well done?

Imagine that a vice-president of the Detroit Pistons, and another from the Pac-12, and a representative from the front office of Fox Sports Arizona - all of whom learned their craft under your command - planned their weekend around your retirement. At their expense.

I didn't attend last week's celebration of Tom Duddleston Jr.'s career because, to be truthful, I didn't want to choke up and show all the people I'm a softy. And, besides, I don't want to think of my friend Dudd as someone who's old or retired or whose presence I won't be able to enjoy the way I have across the last 25 years.

Do you know who the first person to emerge from Arizona's locker room after the historic 1988 Final Four loss to Oklahoma was? It was Dudd. Everyone else was in tears. Dudd, a master of perspective, didn't betray a single emotion.

"We'll be here again," he said. "We belong."

He admits to tears just once in those 30 years, and it wasn't because Arizona got so achingly close to the Rose Bowl or anything related to wins and losses.

"The Tucson Boys Chorus sang the Russian National Anthem before an exhibition game against the Russian basketball team at McKale Center," he remembers. "It was powerful. It was so unexpected."

Dudd wasn't a celebrity sports information director who insisted on standing astride Lute Olson when the cameras were rolling, and he wouldn't accompany Dick Tomey to midfield for a post-game TV shot. I've seen those SIDs all the time, at Oregon and USC and a lot of other places.

Dudd did his work and got out of the way.

"We had a mission and in my mind that mission was cooperation," he says. "We were the official record of UA sports. It's not a glamorous thing, but it's an important thing."

Duddleston grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., moved to Tucson and graduated from Palo Verde High School. He didn't set out to work in sports; he was a house painter, he worked in the concrete business and he was a reporter for The Associated Press and at the old Tucson Citizen ("I covered the night police beat," he says with some disdain). He once hitchhiked cross-country to live near Cape Cod.

In the late '70s, when Arizona was struggling to prove that it belonged in the Pac-10, he worked at the UA's public information office, sometimes given an assignment to cover football.

"We wanted to get into the Phoenix market so we would take film, silent film, write a script then send it to the Phoenix TV stations," he says. "I lucked out. I was in the right place at the right time."

In the summer of '83, four months after Arizona hired Olson to become a player on the national stage in college sports, Dudd moved his office to McKale. He was smart enough to know that it wouldn't be about him.

"The head coaches are pretty sure of themselves," he says. "It's their show."

He sat down, shut up and was a company man among company men. He led by example, with the driest sense of humor on the planet, and gained respect because he would not engage in pettiness or disloyalty.

He would not, ever, leak an important piece of insider news to me or anyone. He was not a gossip.

"I didn't need the edification some guys in this business need," he says. "I'd help out Vern Lundquist when he'd come to town with CBS, or Dick Vitale with ESPN, but you don't need to grandstand. My priority was always the local guys; they need us more than the network guys ever do."

Dudd started in the era of the Underwood typewriter and went out in the age of digital media, as fluent as anyone in the business. He worked for Cedric Dempsey and Jim Livengood and Greg Byrne, and endured so long that the Daily Star had 19 total beat writers, basketball and football, covering the Wildcats in that span.

The list of those who learned under him - from NBC's broadcaster Dan Hicks to Golf Channel president Mike McCarley to Pac-12 director of marketing Danette Leighton - is as long as those Olson sent to the NBA.

At another school he might've been an institution. At Arizona, he was, simply, Dudd.

"He created a family-like atmosphere in the SID office and made it a place you wanted to be," says Brett Hansen, director of communication and marketing for Fox Sports Arizona. "You didn't mind being at a football game four hours before kickoff, or leaving McKale Center two hours after the final horn, or come into the office on Sunday mornings. There were no individuals in that office."

Room 106 at McKale Center is the nerve center of the UA's sports universe: videographers, IT people, those who dispatch information on each of the school's 19 sports, camera people and reporters from a half-dozen news outlets. The relatively small space is so congested, with so many moving parts, you often wonder how anything gets done.

It got done because Dudd would arrive, on foot, or bike, from his Sam Hughes-area home every morning at 7:30 and be the last guy to leave, in the twilight. He was rarely out to lunch or on a long weekend.

Now, the UA is in the middle of a national search to replace him. It's likely that it never will.

Contact Greg Hansen at or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711