published Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Wiedmer: Who next to lead Vols’ athletic department?

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)
Poll
Should Phil Fulmer be the next UT athletic director?

Inevitable.

That was University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton’s pointed assessment of his stunning Tuesday resignation, not mine.

Not that most folks expected him to survive long past this weekend’s appearance before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis. The best-case scenario for Hamilton was a likely reassignment within the university, which would have been understandable given his magical fundraising touch.

But the more likely ending was just what happened, though the vast majority of Volniacs probably expected him to hang on until the NCAA announced sanctions either early or late in the football season, depending on whether UT appealed.

Then again, when you can receive more than $1.3 million for resigning, why stick around any longer than necessary?

Still, whatever the severance package, Hamilton will be gone as of Monday, his eight years highlighted by incredible improvements in the Big Orange physical plant and indefensible mistakes in coaching hires.

The question now becomes where UT goes from here. Who should become the next Tennessee men’s AD?

Should the Volunteers return to someone with a strong major college athletic past as a coach or player, someone such as former AD Doug Dickey, arguably one of the most powerful forces in his field during his 17 years atop Rocky Top?

Or should it again roll the dice with a money guy such as Hamilton, mindful that the next eight years — given the fragile state of the economy and UT’s annual $100 million athletic budget — will require a new AD at least as astute as the old one in financial matters if the Big Orange is to avoid a big red debt?

It’s a tough decision, for the reality is that almost no one’s a genius in both areas. Dickey was blessed to have Hamilton by his side. Hamilton, unfortunately, had no Dickey to sniff out coaching flaws.

But Hamilton loyalists could also argue that any UT fan who says he couldn’t recognize coaching talent is lying as least as much as Bruce Pearl did to the NCAA.

After all, before Pearl got himself into a jam with one lie after another, Hamilton was universally praised for hiring him. And at least 80 percent of the Big Orange Nation fell hard for the loudmouthed Lane Kiffin when he was chosen to run the football program.

Moreover, much as both those hires eventually blew up in Hamilton’s face, his replacements — Derek Dooley for football and Cuonzo Martin for basketball — figure to keep the next AD from again having to face the Committee on Infractions.

In truth, Hamilton may simply have fallen to the Peter Principle, the point of a 1970s book that trumpeted the belief that most people rise up the employment ladder to their level of incompetence, going one rung beyond their capabilities.

Hamilton was a brilliant fundraiser and physical plant visionary. When it came to picking coaches, not so much.

But is there anyone out there who figures to be a master of both? Former football coach Phillip Fulmer is being discussed and would no doubt be a big hit with all those boosters who believed he was wrongly terminated. As an alum, he cares deeply about the program. But could he now coddle up to those boosters who helped run him off? Could he let bygones be bygones?

Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt would seem to have every qualification, but she said Tuesday that she wasn’t interested in the job.

Then there’s Gene DeFillipo, the Boston College AD who once served as a UT graduate assistant under Bill Battle. One factoid to trumpet Gene D: BC’s 2004 Eagles won the American Football Coaches Association academic award for a 100 percent graduation rate, and U.S. News and World Report has consistently ranked BC among the top 20 athletic departments in the country.

Two other names currently working elsewhere: Buffalo athletic director for development John Lambert and Kansas State AD John Currie, a former Hamilton assistant.

Finally, there’s a whisper campaign among at least a few lettermen for Condredge Holloway, currently an assistant AD and one of the most beloved football Vols ever.

There may no perfect choices here, but some sort of dual athletic directorship between Lambert and Holloway — Lambert handling the money, Holloway the coaches — would at least be groundbreaking.

Yet that’s all probably a few months away. For now, we’ll leave the momentary last word to Hamilton, who said on his way out the door to collect his $1.3 million, “We (UT) have been in a period of turmoil that needs to end.”

That may be the one point every Big Orange fan can agree on.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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