Sunglasses over his eyes and his Blackberry nowhere in sight, Mike Hamilton sat casually with his feet propped up on the dashboard of his golf cart Friday afternoon.
A few moments of rest spent in between holes of his annual charity golf tournament couldn't have symbolized the former Tennessee athletic director's past two months any better.
"I think maybe a couple gray hairs have gone away," Hamilton joked.
The sense of calm that took hold immediately after he resigned in June is what made waiting for the Committee on Infractions' ruling so easy for Hamilton. After slogging through all 22 months of the NCAA's investigation, and then waiting even longer for the school's hearing, Hamilton said he was actually pleasantly surprised that it came down Wednesday, and not some time later in September.
But as much as Hamilton has separated himself from UT and the spotlight since his resignation, he still had a sense of validation and closure when the NCAA upheld the university's self-imposed penalties and issued no further sanctions.
"You want it to come on out and want to be as you hoped it would be," Hamilton said in his first public comments since his resignation. "Given what we have gone through, the compliments the university received for how we interacted with the NCAA during the infractions process were validating when it relates to our compliance."
UT's acting vice chancellor of athletics Joan Cronan singled out Hamilton as a "key factor" throughout the investigation.
On Friday, Hamilton deferred the credit to UT's compliance staff.
"This situation we were involved in was a very specific scenario involving personalities. Good people who made mistakes, unfortunate mistakes," Hamilton said. "In the end, I hope that going forward in the NCAA that is the process. If it's individual-specific, let the individuals bear more of the brunt of the charges."
Former men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, who received a three-year show-cause penalty that will make it extremely difficult to obtain a college coaching job during that period, was that individual. And that's what Hamilton said he ultimately anticipated — give or take a year — after going through the June hearing.
"He'll get through that," Hamilton said. "Bruce is going to be successful in whatever he does."
At a press conference from his driveway Thursday, Pearl harped on the infamous "bump" violation that was alleged against him and former assistant Tony Jones in February's Notice of Allegations, which caught UT's administration by surprise. Pearl said the timing of the alleged violation, which was ultimately contested and dropped during the June hearing, "led directly to the termination of my coaching staff."
Hamilton wouldn't confirm Pearl's statement and wouldn't speculate on what might have happened if the violation was never alleged.
"I don't think we're in to revisionist history," Hamilton said. "It's an accumulation of things. It's regretful we ended up there."
Hamilton, though, echoed Pearl's sentiments about the "flaws" in the NCAA's investigatory system.
"The NCAA has to do what they need to do to play it all out, go down the bunny trails they have to go down to complete an investigation," Hamilton said. "For those of us who are involved in it, particularly when it's a secret process, it's really hard because there's collateral damage from that, institutional damage from that, there's speculation involved in that.
"That can have a negative effect on both schools' and people's lives."
Hamilton certainly fell into that category.
His personal life already time-crunched with the litany of responsibilities that come with being an athletic director at an SEC school, Hamilton said the 22-month investigation made it nearly impossible to spend any significant time with his wife, Beth, and his five children. That's changed for the better over the past two months.
Hamilton has vacationed in Jackson Hole, Wyo., camped with his son, Matthew, and played plenty of golf. He said he hasn't felt the need to read newspapers, check his e-mail or even listen to the radio as much as he did on the job at UT. Hamilton's knowledge of the school's ongoing search to find his replacement is minimal, and that's the way he wants it to be.
The money he receives from a contract buyout that will pay him $1.3 million over the next three years has allowed him to live comfortably and survey his options. With his children now back in school, Hamilton said he's been fixated with figuring out "what's next."
There are an array of options, and they're primarily outside the world of college athletics. For some of those opportunities, a deadline to make a decision is looming, which means Hamilton's time in Knoxville could be coming to a close soon.
"There are times and seasons in our life," Hamilton said. "This was a wonderful season so we're preparing for the next one."