$3.5 million gift from former NFL coach bolsters s...

$3.5 million gift from former NFL coach bolsters scholarships

The late Ken Shipp, a 1947 MTSU graduate and legendary NFL coach, has left a $3.5 million bequest to the university to benefit a scholarship fund he set up to help Rutherford County students, officials announced Oct. 16.

The bequest, coupled with Shipp’s earlier gifts, brings the scholarship fund’s total to more than $4 million – making it the most generous program to date benefitting Rutherford students, said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.

Coach Ken Shipp, left, and MTSU Director of Athletics Chris Massar view a video tribute from New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning on the night in February 2011 that Shipp donated $1 million to MTSU. (MTSU file photos)

“Starting next fall, thanks to this commitment, dozens of students each year will have the resources needed to pursue their education,” McPhee said.

Shipp, who died on March 5, 2012, at the age of 83, designated the majority of his estate to benefit the fund he established with the MTSU Foundation in 2007.

McPhee said the fund will help incoming select MTSU freshmen from Rutherford County public high schools who demonstrate an ability and desire to excel, but for whom tuition money is a major barrier. Since the amount given to each student is based on need, the number of scholarships awarded each year will vary.

“Ken Shipp was perhaps best known in Middle Tennessee for his love of Blue Raider athletics,” McPhee said. “Soon, however, he will likely be known to future generations for creating the means by which generations of deserving students obtain a college education.”

McPhee said Shipp wanted to make a difference for hard-working students. If they were willing and made at least a “B” average in high school, Shipp wanted to make funds available to help some of them reach their goal, the president added.

In 2007, Shipp gave $50,000 to the MTSU Foundation to create the fund, said Joe Bales, the university’s vice president for development and university relations, who worked closely with Shipp in developing this award. The first scholarship was awarded in fall 2009.

Coach Ken Shipp swings the first sledgehammer on the women’€™s basketball office renovation in 2011.

Three years later, in February 2011, Shipp gave $1 million more to MTSU. Bales said while Shipp’s gift paid to renovate the Lady Raiders coaches’ office space in Murphy Center, it also benefitted his scholarship fund.

“Our new women’s basketball office is an exceptional facility, but Coach Shipp’s real love was his great desire to send people to college – especially those who cannot afford it,” Bales said.

“He had no children of his own, but his great desire was to create a legacy for local youth who lacked the means and support to come to our university. He believed in them, even though he didn’t know who they were.”

This past April, the university announced a five-year, $80 million fundraising effort, which was named the Centennial Campaign in honor of MTSU’s founding in 1911.

Bales said the effort, the largest in the MTSU’s history, will help support strategic initiatives and in four critical areas:

  • maintaining an exceptional student body;
  • assuring the highest quality faculty and staff;
  • fostering an innovative learning environment; and
  • competing at the highest levels athletically.

Shipp was born in 1928 in Old Hickory, Tenn., and played football for MTSU’s legendary Charles “Bubber” Murphy.

He was an assistant coach in the National Football League and, during the 1975 season, was interim coach of the New York Jets, gaining attention for benching quarterback Joe Namath for violating team rules. During his stint with the New Orleans Saints, Archie Manning described Shipp as “a smart man and a good coach.”

Yet despite his success as a coach and his strong support of his alma mater’s athletics programs, the Shipp name will eventually be most closely associated with scholarships, McPhee said.

“His foresight in working with the MTSU Foundation to establish and grow the Ken Shipp Scholarship Fund helped ensure that his goals became a reality,” McPhee said.

— Andrew Oppmann (