published Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Wiedmer: UTC's AD choices all good ones

So, who is it? The interviews have concluded. The meet-and-greets completed. Hopefully the background checks, as well.

And given all that, just who will new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chancellor Dr. Steve Angle and his search committee choose for the school's new athletic director?

More importantly, who should they select to guide the Mocs program through arguably the most important and exciting time in its Division I history?

Should they choose the 61-year-old Lee Fowler, the former Vanderbilt basketball player who's spent significant time overseeing the athletic departments at Middle Tennessee State and North Carolina State?

Should they reach out to University of Tennessee associate AD and 1990 UT grad David Blackburn, who knows both the area and UT system well, as well as a large number of potential area donors through his Big Orange connections?

Or should they roll the dice on the youngest of the three -- 42-year-old Wake Forest associate AD Mike Buddie, who looks a little like Tom Cruise (only taller), pitched 87 games in the major leagues and retired with a winning record (5-4) and once taught actor Kevin Costner how to throw a fastball for his role in "For the Love of the Game"?

All three of these guys have far more pluses than minuses. All three appear to really want the job and all three seem unfazed by UTC's no-frills annual budget of $12 million and the continuing and unstable winds of change involving conference realignment.

But which one is best for a Mocs athletics department currently lacking both a men's and women's basketball coach and in desperate need of improved fundraising?

Here's one writer's quick view of each candidate's supreme strength and weakness:

Fowler -- The last man interviewed, his own words underscore his most compelling reason for employment: "I've got a lot of national contacts and state contacts." In other words, when it comes to experience, when it comes to lining up guarantee games with BCS foes in both football and basketball, Fowler should have the edge.

Also, by guiding Middle into FBS football before moving on to N.C. State, Fowler could prove invaluable should the Mocs want to make that leap somewhere down the road.

His weakness? Does he see this as his last rodeo, much as former ADs Steve Sloan, Ed Farrell and Oval Jaynes once did? UTC needs someone who sees this as a stepping stone rather than a retirement watch.

Buddie -- His Ohio roots and baseball background might be appealing to Angle, who may be looking for someone who thinks outside the Southern athletics box. His quote about hiring new basketball coaches also shows he's unafraid to quickly take charge.

"With two basketball positions open, that's like the perfect storm of Athletic Director 101," Buddie said on Tuesday. "You get to come in and put your stamp on the program right away."

Buddie's weakness? His lack of knowledge of both this area and a cash-strapped program in a conference such as the SoCon. Yes, Wake isn't at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference financial structure, but it's still a BCS school in a BCS league.

As for Blackburn, his UT roots seem to be his biggest obstacle with some UTC supporters. However understandable, it's also unfortunate in this case. His diligence in reporting NCAA wrongs committed under former football coach Lane Kiffin unquestionably spared the Vols a serious probation penalty and his fundraising talents have never been questioned.

While it's certainly fair for Mocs supporters to fear Blackburn would place what's best for Big Brother UT over UTC, the whispers from Knoxville are that Blackburn believes he's hit his ceiling there and that UTC gives him an excellent platform to showcase his skills for another BCS school somewhere down the road.

For these reasons and more, most everyone somewhat familiar with this search believes Blackburn will become UTC's new AD, possibly as soon as today, almost certainly by Monday.

But if you're looking for a darkhorse, go with Buddie, who once raised money for Wake's business school before he moved to athletics.

Why is this important? Angle's great strength on his way up the administrative ladder was his ability to raise money for departments that had nothing to do with sports. He more than doubled grants for science-centered programs at UC-Riverside. He increased giving to similar programs at Wright State by more than 30 percent. Buddie's acumen for raising money for something other than sports should impress the new chancellor.

And should the school ever find itself with the financial means to re-start its baseball program, Buddie just might be able to lure Costner in for a fundraiser.

This doesn't mean either Blackburn or Fowler shouldn't get the UTC job, or that both men wouldn't be fine hires. It does mean that the Buddie System might deliver the Mocs a lifeline to a promising future never taught in Athletic Director 101.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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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