published Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Greeson: Mike Hamilton goes from fanfare to fan despair

Mike Hamilton speaks during a news conference announcing his resignation as athletic director at the University of Tennessee, Tuesday, June 7, 2011,  in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Mike Hamilton speaks during a news conference announcing his resignation as athletic director at the University of Tennessee, Tuesday, June 7, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Mike Hamilton is a great guy.

Yet the overwhelming sentiment of the orange-clad University of Tennessee fan base after Hamilton’s resignation as the men’s athletic director is joy. And relief.

The timing, though, must give every UT fan pause. Days before the Vols head to Indianapolis to face the NCAA Committee on Infractions does not appear to be the ideal time to be clearing the deck. Hamilton said as much Tuesday, acknowledging that his resignation may not be good for UT in the NCAA’s eyes, but it certainly can’t be bad, either.

Aside from his gracious if oddly timed exit, how will Hamilton be remembered? He was one of the best fundraisers in college sports. He was a rainmaker who became an unmatched facility builder, even in a down economy.

Hamilton oversaw one of the state’s biggest businesses, and it grew during his tenure. But don’t confuse growth with improvement. Simply put, the turmoil created by the coaching carousel — some of it created by Hamilton and some of it having nothing to do with him — has divided a fan base and damaged UT’s two premier programs.

  • UT athletic director Mike Hamilton discusses the impact of his resignation
    University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton discusses the impact of his resignation on UT's upcoming hearing with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.

Under Hamilton, the football program is at a level of mediocrity not seen in Knoxville in a generation. The program suffered through a painful divorce with former coach Phillip Fulmer, and how Hamilton will be remembered 10 years from now depends greatly on the next few seasons of the Derek Dooley era. Whether Dooley can return the Vols to SEC and national prominence — where UT basked for much of the 1990s and into the early 2000s — could greatly improve the long-term view of Hamilton for UT fans.

The basketball program is preparing to start over, ending its most successful six-year run ever under Bruce Pearl, who was fired for NCAA violations. New basketball coach Cuonzo Martin now leads a program that, despite the record-setting run, is facing an uncertain future with an unproven roster in an improving SEC.

For much of Hamilton’s tenure, finding Pearl was his saving grace. Through the messy split with Fulmer and the scandalous 13-month dance with Lane Kiffin, no matter which side of the fence you fell on the football debate, Hamilton always had Pearl. He was his knight in shining chest paint — the fast-talking, faster-moving ball of energy that made Tennessee basketball relevant and filled the cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena.

Hamilton had a strong line of credit because he salvaged hoops. And then Pearl lied to the NCAA. And then he tried to get a 17-year-old kid to lie for him. And then, despite being on triple-secret probation, Pearl continued to ignore NCAA guidelines.

Pearl was finished — and whether we knew it or not then, so was Hamilton.

It’s the universal and painful truth in sports that coaches and administrators are hired amid fanfare and dismissed with fan despair. So it goes, of course, and it will be true for the next round of UT bosses.

Hamilton is still a great guy, but he’s no longer running the UT men’s athletic department. And to most of the Big Orange Nation, that’s the best news of all.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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