David Blackburn got to preach to the choir Monday. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's new athletic director addressed the Quarterback Club before being softly questioned by a lot of folks whose primary colors have been blue and gold for most of their lives.
Yet even with a house full of Mocs Maniacs ready to embrace his every word at Finley Stadium's Stadium Club, Blackburn asked for no blind loyalty.
"I don't expect you guys to trust and believe me right now," he said. "I know I have to earn that."
Earning anything takes time, of course. And with Blackburn hoping to hire both men's and women's basketball coaches over the next week to 10 days, he knows time is not on his side at the moment.
"I never thought it would be as hectic as it is," he said. "But I love every minute of it."
But it was what he told the crowd of 100 or more about his vision beyond the coaching search that may make this community grow to love the former University of Tennessee associate AD.
"Even in ugly situations, we are going to treat people with respect," he said.
Regarding fundraising, long a UTC athletic department problem, he noted, "We need to be more visible in the community. We need a little more heavy prospecting."
Discussing nonconference basketball scheduling he said, "You want to see exciting teams. That's what grows revenue."
Asked about his views on remaining in the Southern Conference, he made no promises, saying only, "I think UTC should be the school with the greatest stature in the league."
Questioned about the possibility of pushing for more football games to be played on days other than Saturday, Blackburn said, "I'm a little more on the creative side of scheduling. I'm personally all for [Thursday night games]. But as the son of high school football coach, I'm certainly not for butting up against high school football. I hope I'm a little smarter than that."
Much of that is surely what the faithful wanted to hear and needed to hear. But Blackburn also told of his personal struggles, of losing both his father and sister to cancer during his early adulthood; of his years as both a student manager and student assistant to Johnny Majors; even of his days as a tennis player at Tennessee Tech.
"I can't tell you how many cups of coffee I brought coaches," he said of those early days inside the UT football program in the late 1980s. "But it allowed me to build a network; it allowed me to learn about recruiting."
It allowed him to impress Phillip Fulmer enough that when Fulmer became the head coach of the football Volunteers, he soon called Blackburn to ask him to be his assistant recruiting coordinator, a post that quickly led to a different position in the athletic department involving fundraising.
"Before that, I had no idea what fed the engine," he said as he pointed toward the crowd. "You guys are what allows us to do what we do. That helped me as much as anything to learn how to become a director of athletics."
Blackburn will learn a lot this first year. If his basketball hirings don't immediately impress, the fans will attempt to teach him how much he doesn't know.
Keenly aware of that dynamic, he said, "I may not be here if I get it wrong."
But he seemed to get all of it right Monday.
Said lifelong Mocs fan Marshall Harvey: "I liked him talking about his background and family values. He seems like a first-class kind of guy."
Added Rusty Scott, a season-ticket holder for 30 years: "I like his energy, that he's sincerely glad to be here. I liked his frankness, that he knew he needed to earn our respect. He's not trying to sell us a bill of goods. He probably wouldn't make a very good politician."
The Mocs and their supporters don't need a politician. They need an honest, honorable leader willing to tell it like it is while tirelessly working every day to make it the way the Mocs Nation wants it to be.
Or as Blackburn ended his talk: "I want to do everything I can to make Chattanooga better today than it was yesterday and better tomorrow than it is today."
If he succeeds in that goal, if he can convince the UTC faithful to feed their blue and gold engine with more dollars than cents, if he can find a men's basketball coach to return that program to past glory, he just might become the most trusted and respected AD in Mocs history, both to the choir and the masses yet to be mined.
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 ...