Sports editor Bill Dwyre remembers Bill Thomas

Bill Dwyre was sports editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1981 to 2006. He is currently a sports columnist for the paper. William F. Thomas, the Times editor when Dwyre was hired, died Sunday.

It was late spring of 1981. I was a brand-spanking-new sports editor of a megatropolis newspaper named the Los Angeles Times. I was 37 years old and so far in over my head that drowning was a real possibility.

I wanted to make a gesture to the huge and talented sports staff I had inherited. I needed them to be patient with me, to have faith that I would figure it out over time. I needed to do something that would get their attention in a good way.

I checked back and saw that we hadn't covered the British Open golf tournament for several years. The jump of logic from there was easy. Jim Murray loved golf. Every reader who had ever read him loved Murray. All the other sports staff members--and there were so many in those days I still hadn't met them all and I had been on the job more than a month by then--loved Murray.

Talk about a win-win.

So I called Murray and assigned him to go cover the British Open a few months hence in Sandwich, England. He was delighted.

I was about to put the assignment on a staff list that I kept and always made public so everybody would always know what everybody else was doing. This was designed to be good journalism and good internal public relations, all in one swoop.

But then I paused for a moment to think about things.

Just a few months prior to that, I had been the sports editor of The Milwaukee Journal. It was a fine newspaper and I will always be proud of that association. But, like most newspapers, even in those days, The Journal treated every nickel like it was a gold nugget.

I broke into a cold sweat. What had I just done? Murray's trip to the British would be expensive. My Milwaukee mentality clicked in.

So, I decided to do what all great editors do. Cover my ass.

I picked up the phone and called Bill Thomas. By then, I had met him just once. That's how huge the paper was. I was told I was being named sports editor, after three months as the No. 2 guy, by the outgoing sports editor over lunch in the Picasso Room. I could only assume that Thomas and the managing editor, George Cotliar, had been in on the deal, and as I learned later, they not only had been in on it, but had orchestrated it masterfully.

So I called Thomas' office and his secretary put me through, after pausing for a moment to figure out who I was.

I told him I just wanted him to know that I was sending Jim Murray to the British Open.

Silence.

I babbled on about getting our readers more exposure to Murray's golf writing, and about how this was supposed to be a good year for the British tournament.

Silence.

Finally, Thomas says, "Do what you want. It's your sports staff, your sports budget. Cover stuff. Spend it. And don't bother me with it."

Click.

I remember rocking back in my chair and wondering if I had died and gone to heaven. I pinched myself and, sure enough, I was still alive. Not only was I alive, but the sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, working for the best, in Bill Thomas and his managing editor, Cotliar.

A few days later, Murray called and said he was just making sure it was all right to fly first class. I said of course it was, that that's how we did things at The Los Angeles Times.

I never called Thomas to confirm.


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