Tennessee won't retain George Watts, Norbert Elliott for track program

Norbert Elliott, University of Tennessee assistant coach in sprints and hurdles watches the long jump event at the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championship on Thursday, May. 13, 2010.

Photo by Saul Young

Norbert Elliott, University of Tennessee assistant coach in sprints and hurdles watches the long jump event at the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championship on Thursday, May. 13, 2010.

George Watts

George Watts

Tennessee’s top sprinter has asked to leave and the program seemingly won’t let him.

A pair of its experienced coaches don’t appear to have been seeking an exit, but it did show them both the door.

An interesting week for the UT track program was capped off Friday with the announcement from director J.J. Clark that men’s cross country coach George Watts and assistant Norbert Elliott will not return in 2011 after a second consecutive disappointing season.

The two coaches combined for 33 years of experience with the Vols, and their departure followed public statements from rising redshirt sophomore Dentarius Locke that hinted at discord behind the scenes for the proud program.

Watts and Elliott did not return requests for comment through their school email accounts, and contract information was not available. School spokesman Eric Trainer said Watts and Elliott would remain on the payroll until Sept. 30 unless they take a position elsewhere.

“I did not reach this decision easily, but I felt it was necessary to make some changes to our coaching staff,” Clark said in a university statement. “Our focus and expectation will continue to be about restoring the Tennessee men’s track and field program to a championship level.”

The Vols, a team that has brought home 43 conference title trophies in its history and won a national championship indoors as recently as 2002, haven’t been competing at that level much lately. Their last SEC crown came in 2007 during the outdoor season, and they didn’t come close to threatening this past year while finishing eighth at the conference meet — more than 100 points behind champion Arkansas.

UT’s brightest spot was Locke, the lone representative at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and the conference’s Freshman Runner of the Year. According to the Tampa Tribune, the first-team All-American in the 200 meters met with school officials on June 24 seeking his release from the program, only to be denied and offer some scathing comments about the direction of the track team.

“The program is changing here, and it’s not the way it was when I signed,” Locke told the paper. “I didn’t come here to be a part of a rebuilding process. And the worst part is, the coaches here just don’t get along.

“I have one coach telling me one workout to do, and another coach will tell me something totally different.”

Locke didn’t mention any specific coaches by name, but if the changes he alluded to a week ago included the staff, it’s now official.

Watts logged 26 years at UT, most recently serving as the men’s outdoor track and field associate head coach in addition to his role with cross country. An All-American at UT in both cross country and indoor track as an athlete, Watts oversaw a program that had 33 All-America honors and 21 SEC titles during his tenure.

Elliott, who just wrapped up his seventh season at UT, was in charge of men’s sprinters and hurdlers.

“I’d like to thank George Watts and Norbert Elliott for their service to the University of Tennessee,” UT senior associate athletics director Chris Fuller said in a statement. “Decisions that impact coaching personnel are never easy, and this one was especially difficult.”

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Comments » 94

CoverOrange writes:

Will Locke change his mind now? Or are we done with athletes named Locke?

volboy81 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Will Locke change his mind now? Or are we done with athletes named Locke?

I thought the same thing! We probably need to avoid athletes with the last name Locke!

MikeInTN writes:

It's been a long time since I can remember the U.T. Athletic Program being in such sorry shape!!! The new AD is sure going to have his/her work cut out to restore The Vols to prominence.

richvol writes:

JJ better be right...it's his arse on the line.

bUTchVFL writes:

I hope all the idiots that ripped Locke yesterday realize now that there was some justification to his displeasure.

OrangePride writes:

in response to bUTchVFL:

I hope all the idiots that ripped Locke yesterday realize now that there was some justification to his displeasure.

His displeasure notwithstanding, the way he handled it was, at best, not good. If you can assume he was spot on right (which I do not...there's always two sides), the young man did not make himself look very good.

trgclychip writes:

The problem was NOT with George Watts. The problem is at the top and with other coaches that were retained. An important link with the programs legacy has been severed and many of the programs supporters are heartsick about this. J.J. clark is in over his head.

rocky_topper writes:

in response to trgclychip:

The problem was NOT with George Watts. The problem is at the top and with other coaches that were retained. An important link with the programs legacy has been severed and many of the programs supporters are heartsick about this. J.J. clark is in over his head.

I heard that JJ Clark was in over his head too. The problem is at the time, and time will show this to be true.

FormerTrackVol writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Pullingguard writes:

in response to MikeInTN:

It's been a long time since I can remember the U.T. Athletic Program being in such sorry shape!!! The new AD is sure going to have his/her work cut out to restore The Vols to prominence.

You are so right, and its rather a kick in the rear when Vanderbilt takes one of the highest rated players in the state..Oh, some will say that UT did not want him or need him, then if so, why was he offered...Most of the programs on mens side are mid to bottom tier of SEC.

vols1#232727 writes:

The problems with the Track & Field program does not rest with George Watts. It is another bad decision by Mike Hamilton in appointing Clark. As a participant and observing and supporting this program for over 60 years I do not have confidence in its future. How can so much go so wrong with the UT Vols that I have loved for so Long??

gr82bavolalum writes:

Very disappointed to see Coach Watts let go. Don't know much about Coach Elliot but the cross country team was always competitive under Coach Watts. What's going on over there? Is someone trying to destroy the men's athletic programs or are they that inept?

volsmith writes:

Looks like the wrong coaches were let go to me.

JohnnyRotten writes:

George Watts is a stand-up guy who truly knows how to coach. His list of professional/Olympic runners is impressive. I do not imagine that he was given many scholarships to work with, but he managed to create competitive teams each year. This year's SEC finish was a downright miracle, in fact, considering the number of athletes they lost to injury or transfer. I hate to see this happen.

vfl writes:

Seriously? They fired Coach Watts? When will the roller-coaster ride end... or at least slow down? Not soon enough.

vfl writes:

Ok, the whole Hamilton era and overall poor administration at UT is really beginning to get to me. Our former AD pays millions to former coaches while wrecking our football, baseball, and track programs. Then our Chancellor pays the former AD three or four years salary to leave?! Then we give our Chancellor an 8% raise while all other employees get a 2% raise.

I'm so disappointed with my university right now. Where is the leadership? Where is the common sense? How long until THIS Chancellor jumps out of the plane with his Golden Parachute? Surely won't be long, as it appears HIS plane is crashing.

I'm behind Dooley, Martin, and Serrano and sincerely hope they do well. After all, I can't take much more turbulence. I always thought the Vol family was indestructible. I hope Hamilton's reign and its rippling waves don't prove me wrong.

We had a great, stable, consistent, championship caliber Track program. How did we manage to mess that up? Ugh.

UT has been around for along time. It will continue to stand well after I'm gone. I just hate to see it suffer.

LordWebb writes:

in response to FormerTrackVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

As a recent UT Track and Field alum and All-American I could not agree more. During my one year under JJ he never once even bothered to show up for any mens practice. He never gave any words of encouragement to the men at meets, in fact he would never even watch us compete. And he's supposed to be the mens head coach? Are you kidding me? Coach Watts and Elliott are the types of coaches that most programs wish they had, great technical coaches who also command the respect of all athletes on the team. The worst decision this team has ever made was giving JJ the head coaching job.

GerryOP writes:

I hope we're not allowing rising redshirt sophomore athletes determine who our coaching staff should be. Somethin' funny goin' on here.

Classof72 writes:

This is a joke, right? Right? Hello? Will the last person leaving UTAD please turn out the light? The party's over, for some time, anyway.

SummittsCourt writes:

The hammy fiasco will haunt UT for many years.

Thanks hammy!

TrackVol1975 writes:

This is a disaster. I have known George for more than 30 years and he has been a first-rate coach. I don't know Coach Norbert but have heard good things about him. We are looking at a full-fledged meltdown with the firing of two respected coaches.

It is painful to watch our program, which once dominated the SEC, now being a bottom dweller in the conference. There is no reason for this, none at all.

theoldbear writes:

Does anybody but me remember CHuck Rohe? He put the UT track program on the map.

I even remember Dick Evey, a big defensive linemen, running a leg on the 440 relay at Evans-Collins Field before there was a Tom Black Track.

Mike Hamilton has indeed set the University of Tennessee back to where it was in the early 1960's, before Rohe, Mears, Dickey, became part of the program.

We've been this low before. Hopefully, we can come back again.

allvol32 writes:

in response to LordWebb:

As a recent UT Track and Field alum and All-American I could not agree more. During my one year under JJ he never once even bothered to show up for any mens practice. He never gave any words of encouragement to the men at meets, in fact he would never even watch us compete. And he's supposed to be the mens head coach? Are you kidding me? Coach Watts and Elliott are the types of coaches that most programs wish they had, great technical coaches who also command the respect of all athletes on the team. The worst decision this team has ever made was giving JJ the head coaching job.

Even after reading the story on Locke and the now the story on Coach Watts and Elliott I wasn't able to make much sense of this chaotic situation until I read your post and FormerTrackVol's post. Thanks for shedding some much needed light on the situation to both of you.

Sounds like JJ Clark that should be the one leaving. Is it too late to bring the departing coaches back and get rid of Clark? Sadly I guess it probably is.

jpark001 writes:

Mid Major Mike strikes again.... The gift that just keeps on giving!

Get Clark out now...!

PHAT_VOL writes:

in response to jpark001:

Mid Major Mike strikes again.... The gift that just keeps on giving!

Get Clark out now...!

Yes, Mr Hamilton gave us so Much. Who hired Mr. Hamilton? Just think if Bruce Pearl had followed the rules Mr Hamilton would proably still be the A.D.
GO VOLS !!

Razor784 writes:

JJ must go, look how far we've fallen in just a couple of years on his watch, if this were a higher profile program like basketball or football and it had went so far down hill so fast, then the coach would have already been gone

allvol32 writes:

in response to theoldbear:

Does anybody but me remember CHuck Rohe? He put the UT track program on the map.

I even remember Dick Evey, a big defensive linemen, running a leg on the 440 relay at Evans-Collins Field before there was a Tom Black Track.

Mike Hamilton has indeed set the University of Tennessee back to where it was in the early 1960's, before Rohe, Mears, Dickey, became part of the program.

We've been this low before. Hopefully, we can come back again.

Hi oldbear - I've known Evey for many years and I knew that he threw shot and discus for the track team but I never knew that he also ran on the relay team, I would have loved to have seen that!

Evey went on to play many years in the NFL mostly with the Bears where he was a first round pick. He even played a year with the Chicago Fire of the short-lived WFL.

Evey is one of the most colorful and unique personalities that I have ever known. I got the chance to work on his farm one summer when I was a teenager and that was without a doubt the hardest work that I have ever done but I loved every minute of it. Just being around Evey and listening to him was worth much more that I was being paid, I would have done it for free.

Many people may not know that after retiring from football Evey restored an old 19th century mill on the Little River in Blount County. He and his family spent years building the mill and traveling all over the country locating all of the old parts that were required to make it a working mill. Tragically it was burned to the ground by an arsonist, I hope that there's a special place in you know where for whoever did this.

Sadly Evey is in poor health these days and has been for a while. He is a fine man with a great family.

Here is a link to a nice article about him and the comments are even better than the article.

http://blogs.knoxnews.com/mattingly/2...

83Vol writes:

July Fools Day, right!

There is no finer man involved with the Tennessee athletics programs than George Watts, and it is outrageous that the department's management allowed this action to occur.

The men's distance running program does not receive the type of scholarship support that other highly successful programs enjoy, yet George Watts was able to develop competitive teams as well as All-SEC and All-American performers.

Runners, including me, came to UT because they wanted to be a part of a great track and cross-country tradition. Coach Watts was a vital part of the greatest era, a period of absolute distance running domination in the SEC, and knows how to help each athlete achieve his best. The diminishing results in recent years were not due to poor coaching but reflect the lack of support from the department. If top high school athletes choose to enroll at other schools that clearly support distance running (Arkansas and Oregon come to mind), then UT is at a disadvantage from the start.

For a department that is in such disarray to allow this dismissal, and with such a curt and dismissive statements from Clark and Fuller, gives me no confidence that fortunes will improve any time soon.

FormerTrackVol writes:

Just another glimpse into the type of person JJ let go (in case anyone forgot):
http://www.govolsxtra.com/news/2010/m...

JohnnyRotten writes:

Which men's track athletes had the most success this year?

Sprints.

So let's get rid of the guy who coaches them.

Which men's athletes have been having considerable success recently? Middle distance and distance: see Franklin, Peacock, Spooner, Sigilai, and, going back a little, Famiglietti, Morgan, Pitcher, and Williams. And there are many, many more.

So let's get rid of the guy who coaches them, who made relationships with coaches nationwide (collegiate and high school), who sends men to the Olympics and beyond.

Great job.

Yeah, watching from a distance I can see that there are problems with the program, but I don't see Watts and Elliot being the problems.

Knoxville is one of the best areas of the country right now insofar as producing outstanding distance runners, sprinters, and jumpers. Why are so few signing with UT? Why are they going to NC State, Duke, Texas A&M, and elsewhere?

Where are the vaulters and the multis guys that UT was known for for years? Where is all the money going, all 12.6 scholarships? Why are so many transfering out of the program? I'm not just talking about Locke, because there are others as well, good athletes who can score at the SEC level and beyond.

What has happened to SeaRay Relays, which used to be one of the premier outdoor meets of the year?

GODDESS writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Will Locke change his mind now? Or are we done with athletes named Locke?

Wow, track and field finally has some fans. Where were you all during the season? Probably at a football or basketball game supporting criminals.

JJ makes sure his athletes also take care of their education, which is something sorely lacking in many other (men's) sports. Quit ragging on Coach Clark -- he's an awesome coach and an awesome individual who truly cares about his athletes.

FormerTrackVol writes:

in response to GODDESS:

Wow, track and field finally has some fans. Where were you all during the season? Probably at a football or basketball game supporting criminals.

JJ makes sure his athletes also take care of their education, which is something sorely lacking in many other (men's) sports. Quit ragging on Coach Clark -- he's an awesome coach and an awesome individual who truly cares about his athletes.

I'm confused... Did Watts or Elliott not make their athletes take care of their education? Did they not truly care about their athletes? How are your comments relevant to JJ firing two great coaches?

jibthe3rd writes:

JJ needs to be removed before he fires anyone else that threatens his job. Those two fine gentlemen where fired because they are good coaches. Just spend 10 minutes talking to this guy and you'll see what I mean. It's like talking to a child. It's not a hate thing, he's just incredibly misplaced.

FormerTrackVol writes:

It all goes back to (lack of) accountability.

JJ was put in charge of both track and field teams two years ago. They got worse. Two incredible coaches (one who has given his life to UT Track and Field since the 1970s) were used as JJ Clark's sacraficial lambs. Sounds like a great leader to me.

richvol writes:

The turning point seems to me to be the UT coach that Florida stole from us several years ago,could have been Doug Brown,but he was a really fine coach that had competed here and yet Florida was able to take him away from us?

What the hell is going on at UT? Can the powers be that blind to what is best for our programs? JJ has done nothing to see that the men's program is getting the type of oversight that is needed to be a top flight program. Fire this fool before he completely ruins things.

GerryOP writes:

Totally Off Topic! Does anyone know where I can get the hat that Elliot is wearing. Bought one several years ago, totally worn out, can't find another one. If you know where I can get one (or 2 or 3 or 12!), e-me through by profile page. TIA!

FormerTrackVol writes:

in response to FormerTrackVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Turns out my source was incorrect on the second point 3 and this encounter did not actually happen. Sorry for the misinformation

FWBVol writes:

OK people, this is the first red flag about a Joan Cronan hire. J.J. Clark was first hired by Joan Cronan to run/coach the women's program before being named director of track. Every indicaition is he has handled this situation miserably at best.

I knew George Watts when I was a student assistant in the sports information department in the late 1980s and he was always one of the most personable and approachable coaches on the UT staff in any program. His record as a distance coach is one of the best in the country and, unlike some schools, Watts has mostly developed American born runners.

Tennessee deserves better than J.J. Clark.

LordWebb writes:

in response to FormerTrackVol:

Turns out my source was incorrect on the second point 3 and this encounter did not actually happen. Sorry for the misinformation

Regardless of whether Watts calling out JJ actually happened, I think the real issue here are your first three points. I was there at the 2007 SEC championships and thought it was so strange that the Lady Vols basically sprinted from the track after it was clear that the men had won. Now that I know JJ better it makes sense.

As for your second point, even after he was made director of track and field he never communicated with or helped any male athletes. In fact the man was like a ghost, sometimes I would go weeks without ever seeing him. And never mind respect or trust, pretty much every guy on the team actively hated/mocked him. I can only imagine what it's going to be like now that he's fired the two most popular coaches.

Your third point is also true, making someone who never coached a guy before head mens coach was a classic Hamilton move. JJ was basically made mens coach because Hammy didn't feel like spending time on a coaching search for a non-money sport like track. Chris Fuller isn't innocent in all this either. A week before JJ was hired he told the men at a team meeting that they weren't going to combine programs. There was no way he said. A week later look what happened, essentially the end of championship mens teams.

And as for GODDESS, the mens track team is historically one of the highest performing teams in the classroom. This has nothing to do with JJ. If anyone is going to get credit for the men's grades it should be the Thorton Center, the people over there are awesome and don't get enough recognition for what they do.

JohnnyRotten writes:

Watts is an outstanding coach of...

800m (Tony Parilla, Jebreh Harris, Marc Sylvester, Paul Cross, Yarrick Kincaid, Joe Franklin, Emerson Peacock, etc.)

1500/Mile (Tim Pitcher)

3K Steeple (Anthony Famiglietti, Tony Cosey)

5000m (Glenn Morgan, Todd Williams, Anthony Famiglietti, Stuart Ellington, Doug Ellington)

10,000m (Todd Williams, Anthony Famiglietti, Tony Cosey, Stuart Ellington)

Pretty good range. How do you replace that?

LordWebb writes:

A few of my favorite JJ experiences:

At his first team meeting last year he talked for an hour and a half about how the freshman girls weren't doing their homework and how they would show up to his office complaining about various girl problems. Needless to say I never wasted my time showing up to another "team" meeting.

During our week long stay in Oregon last year for NCAA's he tried yelling at me for going across the street to Subway without his permission. I looked him dead in the eye and told him I'm a grown a** man and can cross a street without his help.

Then there was the weight room that the throwers put together at the track. It was perfect because we could always get a quick lift in after our runs. One weekend we got back from a meet and it was gone. Turns out JJ told the KTC they could turn the space into storage without telling anyone.

hueypilot writes:

So we fire coaches with long term record of success and allegiance to UT and keep their boss, who fired them presumably in a last-ditch effort to hold onto his job. Looks like Ms Cronan better get her nose into some areas and damned fast. It looks, from 600 miles away down in Florida that the UT Athletic department in in disarray, to put it mildly. Do we need to bring back Dickey on an interim basis, much like they did Joe Johnson after the UT President debacles, to provide stability, leadership and direction until a suitable AD can be found?

volspaws writes:

in response to FWBVol:

OK people, this is the first red flag about a Joan Cronan hire. J.J. Clark was first hired by Joan Cronan to run/coach the women's program before being named director of track. Every indicaition is he has handled this situation miserably at best.

I knew George Watts when I was a student assistant in the sports information department in the late 1980s and he was always one of the most personable and approachable coaches on the UT staff in any program. His record as a distance coach is one of the best in the country and, unlike some schools, Watts has mostly developed American born runners.

Tennessee deserves better than J.J. Clark.

GREAT point...while talking heads around the country are slapping UT on the back for promoting Cronin,I've yet to read or hear what she's accomplished at Tennessee. The woman's basketball dynasty was in place long before Cronin set foot on campus. While Ms. Cronin might be a great human being, i want to know what she has done to move Tennessee athletics forward. She could start by telling us what she's going to do about the meltdown of the men's track program.

SserPrun95 writes:

in response to GODDESS:

Wow, track and field finally has some fans. Where were you all during the season? Probably at a football or basketball game supporting criminals.

JJ makes sure his athletes also take care of their education, which is something sorely lacking in many other (men's) sports. Quit ragging on Coach Clark -- he's an awesome coach and an awesome individual who truly cares about his athletes.

Well my name is Andrew Press and I graduated from the program back in 2008. I, along with the vast majority of male alumni from a 50 mile radius (about 15-20 male guys and not just distance runners), met with Mike "The Destroyer" Hamilton strongly advocating for Watts and opposing the appointment of JJ to head men's track coach. The UT alum are fiercly loyal to their coaches. Guys like Watts, Elliot, and Webb bled orange and their athletes loved them for it. In contrast the feeling within the men's program atleast while I was there towards JJ varied from complete indifference to disgust. He never liked Watts and while I hoped this wouldn't happen it does not surprise me at all. I do know that with this move JJ and the AD has successfully annihilated a combined 30+ years of alumni support. Maybe in a decade or two JJ can rebuild something like the support Elliot and Watts had from their alumni, but somehow I doubt it.

TrackVol1975 writes:

in response to SserPrun95:

Well my name is Andrew Press and I graduated from the program back in 2008. I, along with the vast majority of male alumni from a 50 mile radius (about 15-20 male guys and not just distance runners), met with Mike "The Destroyer" Hamilton strongly advocating for Watts and opposing the appointment of JJ to head men's track coach. The UT alum are fiercly loyal to their coaches. Guys like Watts, Elliot, and Webb bled orange and their athletes loved them for it. In contrast the feeling within the men's program atleast while I was there towards JJ varied from complete indifference to disgust. He never liked Watts and while I hoped this wouldn't happen it does not surprise me at all. I do know that with this move JJ and the AD has successfully annihilated a combined 30+ years of alumni support. Maybe in a decade or two JJ can rebuild something like the support Elliot and Watts had from their alumni, but somehow I doubt it.

Not having met J.J., I cannot comment on him. However, George Watts' record speaks for itself. George is a first-rate coach, and I remember when we recruited him to UT from high school.

This is a huge blow to the Men's track and field teams, and I only can hope that someone can pick up the pieces down the road. George Watts has given UT most of his working life and has produced very well. He did not deserve to be booted out in this ignominious fashion.

abnerPeabody writes:

I will be the first to admit I do not know jack about who should be coaches and who should not be.
It does seem that Mike Hamilton has killed all men sports programs at tennessee.At least he has crippled them for awhile.
His hiring record is very bad,except for Pearl and we all know that that was also a mistake in the long run.
Our new football coach,basketball coach etc.do not have a proven track record against top programs and with the athletes they have recruited to date,there will not be much improvement for a while.
The coaches seem to be good but this is the SEC,the best conference in America.We may be competitive with our 2 and 3 stars but that will not win championships.
I am very willing to allow enough time to see how these hires work out.The proof will be in a couple years.I hope we come to the top,but everything seems to say that we will be looking for new coaches in a very short time.
Tennessee is likely the only teams in any conference that is paying more to fired coaches than they are for current ones.
Hammy is gone.Thank the good Lord.

CCLC writes:

its getting messy .......

kflaute writes:

I'm tired of ignorant messages on this board. I am sad that Watts and Elliot were let go but I also believe it wasn't JJ who wanted to let them go. I don't have all the information but if you just look at how downhill the athletic department has fallen the last few years you will probably find your answer. UT needs to find a competant AD and restructure the athletic department before this same situation happens in other sports. As for the "former Vols" who post on here stand up and state your name when you post- I commend Press for identifying himself and his opinion is his opinion.

UTKin1992 writes:

Just curious...can Mike Hamilton be given the death penalty?

olevole writes:

Our University is clearly in a state of disarray. We are facing serious NCAA sanctions in football and basketball. We are having more coaching changes-in basketball,baseball and track.

Our best track athlete wants to leave and publicly calls us "cold-blooded." Top athletes from Knoxville and Memphis in baseball and football prefer Vandy to UT.

We only have a temp for an athletic director after the last one left under a cloud.

Much of this can be attributed to the mismanagement of Mike Hamilton. But there is no basis for hope since the people who selected and managed him have not demonstrated that they want and can attract a strong athletic director to get us out of this mess. If they had they would have made Joan Cronan permanent on day 1--but she ain't one of the good ol' boys.

More significantly, the Governor and Legislature are defunding higher education in general and UT in particular. With the value of a UT degree being deliberately cheapened, there is less incentive for our athletes to stay in school (even when their pro opportunities are limited), and less reason for a smart athlete to come here. This is only going to make it worse over the long haul.

There needs to be a demonstrated commitment change of direction at the very top--not at the middle manager athletic director and chancellor level.
...

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