Director of the Frank Erwin Center announces retirement after 28 years with the organization


Austin, Texas – Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director of the Frank Erwin Center, John Graham, announced this week that he will retire from his position at the end of August 2017. Graham is only the second director of the Frank Erwin Center, following Dean Justice, CFE who opened the venue in 1977.

Graham got his start in the arena industry in 1980 as the Events Manager of Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He spent nine years at Assembly Hall, working his way up to Assistant Director and then Associate Director, before moving to Austin to join the Frank Erwin Center as Associate Director in May of 1989. He was then promoted to Director in October of 1990.

During Graham’s 28 year tenure, he was instrumental in bringing world renowned events to the Frank Erwin Center including the first ever WWF (now WWE) event in 1989, which was a sellout with approximately 17,000 fans in attendance, the Davis Cup quarterfinal between the U.S and Spain in 2011, two nights of Paul McCartney’s 2013 “Out There” tour, a project which took approximately two years to come to fruition, and most recently, the iHeartCountry Music Festival, which returns for its fourth year this May. 

Graham’s mentors and current and former colleagues shared their feelings upon hearing news of his retirement:

“I knew of John’s great work long before I became Men’s Athletics Director from attending events ranging from graduations and concerts to memorial services. I’ve always had great admiration for how he managed the Erwin Center. Along with all of the Longhorn Athletics events he’s overseen for decades in a first class fashion, he consistently attracts some of the finest entertainment available to our campus and the city of Austin. There’s always something special going on at the Erwin Center, and John and the staff do an amazing job of handling every detail so a variety of events can go off without a hitch. The quick turnaround between tightly scheduled events has always impressed me. Since becoming Men’s AD my appreciation for John and his service to our Athletics Department and University has only grown. We will miss him, his good humor and his positive presence, but I join his other admirers in wishing him the best in retirement.” – Mike Perrin, Texas Athletics Director

“John's dedication to service and excellence and his astute management, have our Frank Erwin Center recognized as the world's most productive on-campus arena. His ability to partner with local, national and international talent and producers have added to the music, entertainment, sports and arts culture of Austin. The Erwin Center has been a source of pride for all who have attended events ranging from commencements to opera.” – Chris Plonsky, Women’s Athletics Director

“John has played a vital role in enhancing the entertainment culture of The University of Texas, the city of Austin and the entire central Texas area. His professionalism has been a great part of Texas Athletics since the Erwin Center transitioned into that department in 2000, and his dedication to maintaining our cherished Texas traditions is evident in his work at the Erwin Center. I hate to see him go, but I know from my own experience that he’s going to love it.” – DeLoss Dodds, Former Texas Athletics Director, 1981 - 2013

“John Graham has one of the most difficult jobs at The University – managing the Frank Erwin Center.  He is responsible for the financial integrity of the Erwin Center, as well as maintaining an excellent relationship with the performers, staff, and patrons of the Erwin Center.  John’s drive for excellence in all endeavors will be greatly missed at The University when he retires.” – Dr. William Cunningham, Former Chancellor, The University of Texas System

“When you are in a team business, you have a lot of team members who don’t wear numbers and aren’t always visible. Over my 30-plus years coaching at The University of Texas, no team member has been more important than John Graham. He controlled the practice and game facility and always made our program a priority. That wasn’t always easy to do; there are a lot of events that take place in the Erwin Center, but he understood the importance of our team’s preparation and access to the facility was a huge part of that. I have always been impressed with his ability to relate to all kinds of people in different positions. He worked well with all of the people in athletics, but also people in the world of entertainment. That was super impressive to me. He had many contacts and was responsible for bringing so many people and events to the city of Austin and our community. I don’t know that he’s gotten enough recognition for that. A wide array of artists and their agents in the entertainment community have great relationships with John Graham. As much as I – and everyone in UT Athletics - will miss John, I think those in the community of Austin will miss him more. He was so invaluable in bringing great entertainment to the Erwin Center. Additionally, John is a great personal friend, and a supporter of every student-athlete who has enrolled and competed at The University of Texas.” – Jody Conradt, Former UT Women’s Basketball Head Coach (1976-2007)

“During my 10 years at Texas, we didn’t have our own practice facility. We appreciated any opportunity to practice in the Erwin Center. John Graham always cooperated with our requests to use the Erwin Center for practice, even if that meant putting the floor down and then pulling it back up on the same day. John knew how important that was for our players and staff. John and his staff were always professional and helpful. From 1988 to 1998, the Frank Erwin Center was one of the elite playing venues in America. It was always spotless and pristine. It reflected John Graham’s personal and professional pride in everything that involved the Frank Erwin Center, our basketball program and The University of Texas. Thanks to John Graham, the Erwin Center was and still is a beautiful building.” – Tom Penders, Former UT Men’s Basketball Head Coach, 1988-98  

“What sticks out to me during my time at Texas was how serious John Graham took his role at the Frank Erwin Center. I can’t tell you how many times we walked into the back entrance together in the morning. He always asked me and so many other staff members and patrons, ‘how can we get better?’ John wanted the building to be good for our basketball program. And he wanted the building to be good for the fans, no matter what event was happening.” – Rick Barnes, Former UT Men’s Basketball Head Coach, 1998-2015  

“John Graham is the epitome of a director of a special events center.  I know that John is held in the highest regards by, not only the entertainers, but their managers and event presenters.  John was an excellent director while working with me at UT Austin, but I also valued him as a special friend.  After moving from UT, I sought John's advice on numerous occasions concerning special events.  John has built an excellent staff at the Frank C. Erwin Special Events Center; however, he will be missed.  I wish John and Crystal the best in his retirement.” – Joe Powell, Former Associate Vice President  

In response to the positive recognition from his peers, Graham said, “None of the great things that these individuals had to say about me would have been possible without the hard-working and dedicated team at the Erwin Center. Our success was achieved together. That’s what I’m most proud of.”