COLUMBIA – Before moving away from the city and school he never could have imagined leaving, Randy Wright has one more surprise to announce via the speakers at Mizzou Arena.
Wright, the public address announcer at Missouri men’s basketball games for the past 22 years, will work his last game March 6 when the Tigers close the season against rival Kansas before taking a job at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he will oversee two television and four radio stations.
This season, the lifelong Columbia resident used several clever, if not cliché, catchphrases for Missouri guard Kim English, like ‘Put a little English on it’ and ‘Welcome to English class.’
“I’m saving one for the KU game,” Wright said Wednesday after Missouri’s win against Colorado. “We’ll see if there’s an opportunity to use that one.”
As he left the sideline after the game, Wright couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being stopped by fans thanking him with a handshake or hug. Judging by all the attention, it’s obvious Wright’s voice, which is deep and smooth and never cracks, has won over Missouri fans. But at times during his farewell game as public address announcer, it likely won’t be so bold and resounding.
“I think I’m going to get a huge lump in my throat at that KU game when I hear the students do an ‘M-I-Z, Z-O-U,’” Wright said. “I think that’s going to be a really hard thing for me. So my voice may crack at the KU game. It’s going to be a real battle for me to keep it together.”
Wright, 47, has been a Missouri fan his whole life. He graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in general studies in 1987 and a master’s in journalism in 2002. After working as KMIZ-TV’s operations manager and chief weathercaster for seven years, Wright spent six years as vice president and general manager of the station before founding Wright Communications LLLP in 2006, which started a Lake of the Ozarks radio station.
He started his gig as public address announcer for the Missouri men’s basketball team when he was a sophomore in college.
“I started doing this when I was a sophomore at Mizzou, and I had no idea how they allowed me to do it then,” said Wright, who received his own announcement and a loud applause from the crowd Wednesday. “I still don’t know why they allow me to do it today.”
Six years ago, Wright started as public address announcer for Missouri football games. During the team’s 2007 win against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium, the signature game in the program’s grand turnaround, Wright took a chance and unveiled the line that will stick with him as much as anything he’s done.
“First down, M-I-Z…,” Wright announced after a Missouri first down, not knowing whether the crowd of over 70,000 would finish the last half of the chant.
It did. Loudly. And since, Wright has led the stadium in the cheer after every Tigers' first down.
“I was in St. Louis about a month ago, I had a guy who I guess recognized me, and he just yelled out from across the street, ‘First down M-I-Z,’ so of course I responded ‘Z-O-U,’ and we both had a big laugh over it,” Wright said.
It’s that warmth and appreciation that has made him enjoy the job even more.
“It’s been amazing because I’ve had people I don’t know just come up and say thanks … You don’t realize how many people come to these athletic events and hear you doing what you do,” Wright said. “And to me, it’s just me having a ball. To them, I think they feel like I’m a part of Mizzou athletics, and nothing could make me prouder.”
When he becomes the director of the new Division of Multimedia Properties at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, Wright will by no means be saying goodbye to MU. He will become president of the Mizzou Alumni Association in the summer and make plenty of trips back to Columbia, where both his and his wife’s families live.
“It’ll feel really weird coming back for homecoming and actually going to the game and just watching the game as a fan,” Wright said. “It’ll be fun, but it’ll sure be different.”
Like life in Gainesville, which Wright said was the only place that could have taken him away from home.
“It’s just kind of a once-in-a-lifetime type deal,” he said. “And it’s in a city that the quality of life is just as good as Columbia. And that’s pretty unique. There’s probably one-in-a-million places that we would go, but Gainseville, Florida, is that spot.”
Wright said the University of Florida did a great job recruiting him and his family. Both his daughters received care packages with jerseys of Tim Tebow, the school’s former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.
“It has made me feel like I’m at home down there, and I never thought I’d feel that,” Wright said.
Watching Missouri play on TV from Florida for the first time will be tough, he said. He’ll have to get accustomed to the madness surrounding Florida football.
“We’re trying to learn the Gator chomp and all that other stuff,” Wright said. “We’re still Tigers through and through.”
In a little more than a year, English has gotten to know Wright well and said he even knows Wright’s wife by her first name.
“I’m a little disappointed he’s leaving,” English said. “But can’t be too bad, going to Florida. That’s nice. Nice weather.”
He’ll miss hearing Wright put a new twist on his name, though. For English, like so many Missouri fans over the years, Wright’s voice is as much a part of Missouri games as anything else.
“I notice it when other people are doing it (saying phrases for English) during the game,” English said. “Like one time the college kid did it, just threw me off … It just didn’t feel right. His (Wright's) voice like resonates, and it just feels right. I can’t put it into words. It just feels right.”