Nobody is looking forward to the 2009 football season more than Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton.
After all, he’s the man who fired one of the most successful coaches in UT history and replaced him with a 33-year-old head coach armed with an assorted staff built on a unique and aggressive salary scale.
This all comes during hard economic times nationally and within UT’s academic walls.
Hamilton talked about economics and a variety of topics on the News Sentinel’s radio show, The Sports Page:
You typically don’t see a head coach take less money so his staff can have more. Is there a sense of gratification to have it done?
Yeah, I’m excited to have it done. More than that, I’m excited about the final product and who has been hired.
I think Lane did a nice job of effectively managing the budget and getting us where we need to go and bringing in some guys that we think can help us out and the kind of success we want to have.
How close is this staff to what you guys planned on the first week of December when Kiffin’s hiring was announced?
I think it’s close in a lot of respects. The main thing is starting out with Monte (Kiffin) and Ed (Orgeron) being two of the top targets early on in the first interview we had with Lane in Atlanta and he got that done pretty early.
He got in here and began recruiting in December. He came back to me at some point along the way, and he said 'For some of these positions I’ve decided that now being on the road I need some additional contacts in the South.' That’s why you see these additions that we had after the holidays of some guys who have a little more background in the South and the Southeastern Conference.
A couple of these guys weren’t on the original list that he was going to target, but as he got in the process and decided that was an important part of the equation, he went after it. I think that’s a good indication of his willingness to examine the lay of the land and determine what he needs to have to be successful.
What do you say to those people who say ‘How in the world can Mike Hamilton be spending more and more money on football, paying a coordinator over a million dollars when we are in the economic times we are in?’
With the coordinator, the salary we are paying Monte would not have been paid for anyone else. That was a targeted hire and he was making considerably more than we could pay him in the NFL. Frankly, he wouldn’t have come if it hadn’t been for his son being here and feeling like a place where he would want to live and possibly win a national championship.
This is a unique situation with that particular hire. As it relates to the investment of dollars, while we are higher than our previous staff, we are still about fourth in the league and I do look it at as a line item in our budget.
We are faced with the very real benefit of a new SEC television contract next year. The lion’s share of which is generated by football television, so it stands to reason that you want to continue to invest in football for the benefit of our own university and the benefit for the Southeastern Conference.
Football drives the financial engine of our train and for us to be successful financially, football has to be successful, or then we are put in the situation like most schools in America were they are relying on the institution for dollars. In these times, we cannot do that.
And that’s probably as much of an overriding factor as anything else. It’s almost a protection device to make sure we generate the kind of revenue to prevent to rely on the institution for dollars.
Do you think you will benefit from publicity in this?
I think so. I saw it from the formal conversations with athletic directors at the BCS National Championship game. Folks asking questions and inquiring about it and wanting to know salaries and it obviously got the attention from the guys there.
We’ve seen it from the standpoint of the excitement level of our fan base. Not only in new donors in the month of December, Tennessee Terrace club commitments in the month of December, (but) the numbers we are seeing that are responding to coming out to the recruiting celebration on February 5th, which is our coach standing in front of a room and going through film of guys that have signed with us the previous day.
We have 600-700 people that have signed up in Knoxville. I think the biggest crowd we’ve ever had was around 250-300. It sold out in Nashville at 500 people. It’s got 400-500 people signed up for it at Memphis. That is a testament to the excitement that’s being generated by the staff.
What kind of financial repercussions has the athletic department suffered from a subpar season?
Well, I don’t have the final concessions numbers yet, Dave, but that will be flat or slightly down. On the ticket side of things, we were probably off $750,000-$800,000 in ticket sales from what we had budgeted.
That’s a combination of things. I think the economy did have some bearing on it in addition to performance, but, yeah, there’s a financial impact to where we were last fall.
How do you expect the recruiting budget to be affected by the new staff in this economic environment?
This is going to be a very aggressive staff from a recruiting standpoint but I think they have been very targeted in what they’re trying to accomplish and they’ve got their eyes set on a particular group of guys in this class and obviously building toward 2010 as well.
So I don’t know what that number is going to look like yet in terms of recruiting dollars. I would imagine it would not be appreciably different from our previous staff. You know we already had the highest recruiting budget in America.
I would say these guys might spend a little bit less but I don’t know that. The proof will be in what we see.
Now, the other thing to say on this is, though these guys are coming in late, this three-week period of time, they are going to be spending a lot of their budget over this three-week period of time because the full staff is in place and they’re trying to make up ground with these guys and they’re trying to get some guys flipped to Tennessee as well.
So, the lion’s share of that money is going to be spent in this three-week period, as well.
I have been told that skybox revenue was off a little bit not just for football but for basketball as well. True?
No, that’s not true. The skyboxes for basketball are fully leased out and we have a waiting list in football. We won’t know what that looks like until March. March 1 is the deadline on recommitting on that.
With the economy, I would imagine there would be some people there but I’m anticipating with the excitement, those spots would be filled pretty readily.
How have your first impressions of Lane Kiffin been affected by the time you’ve spent around him since he was hired?
I just told somebody who walked into my office a minute ago, ‘I feel more confident today about Lane Kiffin’s ability to win here than I did a month ago. And I felt pretty confident about it a month ago.’
I think the impression is, that while he is very intense and very focused, he’s more relaxed than he was a month and a half ago because he has his staff around him now.
He knows the people that are around him, he’s got people he can trust around him and he’s got guys to go out and do what he wants to accomplish on the road.
I like him. He’s different from some of our other coaches but an incredibly focused individual who when you tell him you can do this and you can’t do that he understands where the lines are and he moves forward. He’s not really about making excuses about why we can’t win. He’s about why we are going to win.
And everything he told me in November . . . he’s delivered on that. And we’ve had quite a few opportunities to be together one-on-one. We communicate quite a bit by text or phone when he’s on the road but my interaction with him has been very good, very good.
Could you elaborate on the possibility that Dan Brooks, the former defensive line coach, would remain at UT in some administrative capacity?
Dan is very close to achieving his number of retirement years and we’re going to be paying Dan from a separation standpoint. If we can help him get to where he needs to, and he can provide some administrative assistance, then we’ll have him around.
He’s a great guy and he’s been very loyal through the years and we’re very happy to have him around. Now if he wants to coach again and has the opportunity to coach again then we fully support that as well. I think we’re anticipating that he may be rejoining us in an administrative capacity.
With Lane Kiffin trying to be aggressive, what do you tell him and all the coaches about spending from this point forward? Is there any sense of cutting back at all, or do you guys have to move forward business as usual to make sure you win, even in these challenging economic times?
We went through a process with all our coaches and administrative staff back in the fall, where we cut 2½ million gross dollars out of our budget. That was a good process.
Our coaches and administration were extremely cooperative in that effort and they took a real hard look at their budgets. We may have to take another look at that before all is said and done. The fiscal year is not over yet.
The economy is not getting any better, so that remains to be seen. What we told all our coaches is right now it’s about needs, not about wants. You’ve got to be fiscally responsible.
Let’s talk about what it’s really going to take for you to be successful and win and evaluate what’s a want that you feel like you need but you don’t truly need it today.
We always talk to our coaches about thinking forward five years. What do you feel like you are going to need in your program over the next five years and then you roll it forward every year.
Then we will try to allocate dollars for our coaches to try to purchase those items over a period of time and budget it out. Don’t come to me in May and say that you have to buy something and we have two months left in our fiscal year.
Let’s be thinking about it hopefully five years out, but certainly right now, we are about to go into budget time for the ‘09-‘10 year. Now is when you need to tell me what you are going to need in ‘09-‘10 for sure. Don’t tell me what you’re going to need in ‘09-‘10 in February of 2010.
The coaching staff is selling the NFL. What role should Tennessee’s traditions play in selling the University of Tennessee to prospects or is that naive to think prospects care about such things?
That’s the reality of it. A lot of them are not as concerned about traditions, and probably don’t know our traditions.
Now that being said, I think our coaches will be very cognitive of protecting key traditions. I don’t anticipate you’re going to see a complete turnover in how we do things here in regards to things like Vol Walk, running through the “T,” and that kind of stuff. Orange and white, that’s who we are.
The reality is that a lot of kids that we are recruiting don’t necessarily understand all that. Some of them might if they are from the Southeast. Obviously, they see the checkerboard and running through the “T.” Those are the most distinct things we are known for.
There are going to be some things that will evolve that will become traditions that the new coaches bring to form. When Coach (Doug) Dickey came here as coach in the ‘60’s, that’s when we started running through the “T”. That’s when we painted the endzone with the checkerboard. We didn’t have that before then.
So some things have evolved over time but we will be protective of the key traditions of the university and Lane understands that’s important.
So, no chance of running through the “K”, as in Kiffin?
No chance in running through the “K” - or the “L”.
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