John Adams: Track now part of UT's sports woes

John Adams

Maybe Tennessee's track program felt left out.

Athletic director Mike Hamilton has resigned. UT coaches have been fired in basketball and baseball. Football and basketball are awaiting sentences from the NCAA.

Then, last week, as if compelled by a fraternal calling, the track program called out from obscurity.

"Hey, we're messed up, too," it shouted. "Check us out."

The message was delivered in two parts, both of which made the front page of the News Sentinel sports section. When was the last time that happened out of season?

J.J. Clark, the director of men's and women's track and field, fired two veteran men's coaches - sprint coach Norbert Elliott, and cross country coach and track assistant George Watts, a UT alum who had been at the school long enough to remember when the men's teams competed for national championships.

The dismissals came a day after UT All-American Dentarius Locke created headlines with something other than his 200-meter time. He told a Florida newspaper he wanted to leave UT but was denied a transfer.

"The program is changing here and it's not the way it was when I signed," Locke told the Tampa Tribune. "I didn't come here to be 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."

Imagine the media and fan uproar if that had been a UT football or basketball player talking. But a track athlete's critique - no matter how damning - is easily dismissed by most fans.

Charlie Durham isn't most fans. As one of the eight founders of the Knoxville Track Club, he had a firsthand view of Tennessee's transformation into a track power under former coach Chuck Rohe, who signed on with the Vols in 1963.

"When Chuck came here, Tennessee had a horrible team," Durham said. "He said, 'We're going to develop one of the best track and field programs in the NCAA.' I thought he was probably exaggerating. But the next year, we won the SEC."

And they kept winning.

The Vols won 15 consecutive conference championships from 1964 through 1978 under Rohe, and his successor, Stan Huntsman. Coach Doug Brown (1986-95) won a national championship and two conference outdoor titles. Bill Webb (1996-2009) won a national championship and three SEC outdoor titles. From 1964 through 2008, UT never finished lower than fourth at the conference outdoor meet.

Another streak now is under way. The Vols haven't finished higher than eighth in the league for the last three years, the last two after the men's and women's programs were combined under Clark's command.

"Being an old track guy, it's just disappointing for people like me to see the program go down the drain," Durham said. "We worked hard to be the best in the United States. In a period of two or three years, we're eighth-best in our conference. When you end up eighth in the SEC outdoor meet, that's just totally ridiculous."

If not for problems in UT's more mainstream sports, track's decline might go unnoticed with most fans. Now, it becomes another eyesore in the not-so-pretty big picture.

The baseball program hasn't made it to the SEC tournament since 2007, which is also the last year the Vols won more than seven games in football. And after six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, uncertainty surrounds the basketball program, which awaits penalties from the NCAA as it makes the transition from fired Bruce Pearl to new coach Cuonzo Martin.

The widespread turmoil and failure are difficult enough for casual fans. They resonate even more with longtime fans like Durham, who has been an usher at Tennessee basketball games for more than 50 years.

"As a student at UT in the '50s, I look back at a 60-year period," Durham said. "It appears that the total athletic program has declined substantially. That includes everything but tennis and golf (in the men's program). The problem may be a lack of leadership and direction all the way down."

The leadership is ever-changing. In the past 10 years, the school has had five different presidents. In the past three years, it has had three different head football coaches. When the 2011-12 school year begins, Tennessee will have a first-year athletic director, basketball coach and baseball coach. Its president and football coach will be in their second year, and its men's track coach will be in his third.

Durham tries to be optimistic.

"Hopefully, things will get a little better in the next two or three years," he said. "They can't get any worse."

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 38

NickDanger-ThirdEye writes:

Success or failure at the college level is based almost exclusively on the coach. This is further evidence of Hammy's miserable record in choosing coaches. I hope better days are ahead.

olevole writes:

John Adams understands that this sorry state of affairs at our school is not just because of a few bad coaches. There is a failure of leadership from the top down. The trustees picked weak and crooked presidents, who hired and retained an inept toady for athletic director, who canned good men and replaced them with mid major coaches of questionable background. These coaches brought in some good guys, but there are too many thugs who don't care about staying to earn degrees.

More importantly, despite the fact that we have finally gotten rid of MH, the future is not good. The Governor and legislature is cheapening our degrees by defunding the school, and instead of being run by True Vols, the president and chancellor Ag-Gators who think that what MH did was just fine! They don't understand that traditionally UT beats Florida likea dumb farm animal.

No wonder our track program, that used to attract players in major sports,is just another embarassment.

This needs to get turned around fast. Vandy is on the rise and if we can't get major changes athletically and academically, we will be eating their "dust" for years!

tenntrackXC writes:

The last two years of Tennessee Men’s Track & Field are by far the worst in modern history! In the previous 48 years, with Rohe, Huntsman, Brown, Webb at the reigns, the Vols averaged about a second place finish in the indoor and/or outdoor SEC’s. Of course, numerous titles were won.

These past two years under JJ Clark’s “leadership” we were 10th, 9th, 7th, and 8th. Moreover, in this years outdoor meet there were 11 events where the Vol’s scored zero points. Oh by the way, in case you check, there were actually 10 events but the 4 x 1 has to count as well since we got 1 point finishing last and LSU was DQed.

Any Vol track & Field fan who attended either Sea Ray’s or SEC’s these past two years would have been totally embarrassed by the product on the field. When’s the last time UT ran a 3:12.8 4 x 4 at an SEC championship or a 3:14.1 at a Dual Meet?
Speaking of the Dual, how about a total woopin by 61 points to UCLA out in Westwood this year. Four of our six wins at that meet came from D. Locke & T Benson, who are both planning to jump ship.

Check out the NCAA Coaches Rankings, where we started the pre season ranked 50th, progressed to 99th at week 6 and finished off at 55th, with only Locke contributing in the final poll.

It’s time to pull the plug! Bye Bye JJ, go back to womens track! At the very least give him an ultimatum - finish top 3 in 2012 or else.

Classof72 writes:

In a related matter, Chancellor Cheek has announced that "Rocky Top" is to be replaced by "The Limbo Rock". This fight song answers the musical question, "How low can you go?"

The bar has been set at an unprecedented level, but going the wrong way.

gr82bavolalum writes:

The facilities are there. The resources are there (once we finishing paying off all the buyouts Hamilton is responsible for). We just need some strong leaders, people who can motivate, inspire, and provide some much needed stability.

It's such a shame. The men seemed to like their coaches. The women seemed to like theirs. Hamilton merges the program to save money while creating internal conflict in otherwise stable, proud programs. The greatest irony? Hamilton gets a buyout that, if spent on a Men's Head track coach and a Women's Head track coach, might have helped us avoid this whole track fiasco.

Alums and fans are again frustrated. Two good coaches are gone. Another good coach is under tremendous scrutiny. Brighter days are ahead. They have to be.

Noclevername writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

calivoltrackster writes:

JJ Clark is in way over his head! He has no experience coaching men. He’s simply not qualified.

Hay he doesn’t even like men’s track and he particularly hates the field events and decathlon.

Other then women’s middle distance he really doesn’t like the other women’s events either. Everyone knows it too!

Way to go hammy. Way to leave another program in shambles. Why didn’t you hire George Watts or Vince Anderson when you had the chance.

Since JJ took over, the staff has been dysfunctional, the athletes are jumping ship and he’s firing coaches again.

I know a number of very good women have exited, but
here’s a partial list of Vol’s who left or want out.

Joe Morris Sprinter 10.20, 20.70 transfered to Colo.
Mike Ayers Decathlete/Vaulter 7900+, 17’2” to GA
Mike Seaman Vaulter 17’5” to Ala Birm.
Charlton Rolle HH/400IH 13.68, 51.30 to Clemson
Emerson Peacock 800/1500 1:47.8, 3:49 to BYU
Julius Tate TJ 49’6” Quit
Tyler Stepp HJ/LJ/Decathlon 6‘111/2, 23’6, Stud Deca Quit
Axel Mostrag 800/1500 1:50.1, 3:47 to VCU
Matthew Best Decathlon/HH 6900, 14.20 Quit

NOW
Dentarious Locke Sprinter 10.25, 20.59, 47.60, 6.64 ?
Terry Benson HH/400IH 14.28, 51.98 ?
Who’s next ??

In 2009 the Vol’s were 3rd Indoors and had Four Conference Champions.
They could have used 6-8 of these guys in 2010 or this year!
Stop the bleeding, FIRE JJ Clark!

CrankE writes:

So as bad as UT's track team has been recently, Clark's departure is a good thing....right?

Likewise Adams' departure from KNS could only be a good thing.

VolMoment writes:

in response to CrankE:

So as bad as UT's track team has been recently, Clark's departure is a good thing....right?

Likewise Adams' departure from KNS could only be a good thing.

CrankE has it right. One of the biggest celebration will be when the KNS decides THEY have gone as low as they can and saying we are going to get better and we can prove it by letting the door hit john adams in the A-- as he leaves.
What a celebration it will be!!!!

rivieravol writes:

You inbred rubes criticizing Adams just kill me. Can you find one fact in his column that is incorrect?

Pullingguard writes:

in response to rivieravol:

You inbred rubes criticizing Adams just kill me. Can you find one fact in his column that is incorrect?

You could not have said it better. Sure, Adams is right on, the Tennessee Program is a shambles of what it use to be, now regulated to being sisters with Vandy and from looks of things that will soon evaporate with Vandy being the big brother. All that remains for the Orange faithful are the distant memories of the past. The future will not bring championships anytime soon, so hang on to the past memories.

buzz29 writes:

John Adams is merely reporting reality. Durham is wrong. Things can get worse. Overall, I don't think they will. I think we have good people in place now in football, basketball, and baseball. It seems Clark needs to be removed from track and field. The men's and women's teams each need a head coach.

voloffaith writes:

in response to rivieravol:

You inbred rubes criticizing Adams just kill me. Can you find one fact in his column that is incorrect?

That being said can any of you remember an Adams story about something at UT that was upbeat of positive? Don't hurt your head trying to remember. I'm sure there was one ,but they all seem to be piling on negativity much to his delight.

Sadly the track program that used to be top notch and competitive is now the dregs and almost laughing stock.

voloffaith writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thank ya gatorr troll(KNS plant?)for that delightful pro sunshine state plug. We all know that Uf is safe with no police blotter issues so flock there. Now don't we all feel better shifting student/athletes to that destination? Think about that as we all know none of us can throw stones from glass houses since all our schools have their issues. Some are just more glaring than others at this time.

Go4Two writes:

This will continue until the Football Gods feel we have been punished enough.

thevoice writes:

in response to voloffaith:

That being said can any of you remember an Adams story about something at UT that was upbeat of positive? Don't hurt your head trying to remember. I'm sure there was one ,but they all seem to be piling on negativity much to his delight.

Sadly the track program that used to be top notch and competitive is now the dregs and almost laughing stock.

January 5, 1999... one day after the National Championship game vs. Florida State. Honestly, there really hasn't been much good news come from the hill lately. Can't blame Adams for that.

VolzsFan writes:

Toby Adams is right here. The only thing is that some very smart people like me told everyone the fate of the UT athletics department as soon as Hamilton started his reign of terror and stupidity by firing the winningest baseball coach in school history. It was all down hill from there.

As for track, Bill Webb referenced getting out before they get him when he resigned. That was a direct reference to what had happened to Rod and Phil. So yes, he was another Hamilton casualty.

MilitaryBrat writes:

To the people who wonder why we critize Adams:

Has John Adams wrote anything in his (Anti-UT) column about the new hires in baseball?

The reason he hasn't, is because they are good hires, and he doesn't have anything negative to say about them.

FWBVol writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

OK, I won't even start to point out how many spelling and grammatical errors someone who claims to be a Vandy grad made in your post. What I will address is that while Vandy made it to the CWS for the first time in school history it still didn't win and was the first team from the SEC eliminated. The last I checked they don't give championship trophies for teams that don't win championships. So while I'll admit that Vanderbilt has had a better run than UT in baseball the last few years you still have nothing of significance to show for it.

And from what I read, Vandy's baseball coach is saying that the team is going to be young next year and a down season or two could be coming.

As for the basketball, there are no trophies for being in the preseason top 10 either so I guess if this it what it takes to make you proud, so be it.

And in case you didn't realize it, this is a column about the problems UT's track team is now having. I know you can't tell me anything about have good Vandy is in track because the school dropped track and swimming several years ago.

I guess that proves the old saying, "If you can't run with the big dogs stay on the porch."

It just amazes me how much barking and noise a little dog can make from the porch.

jpark001 writes:

Mid Major Mike Hamilton, the gift that keeps on giving. Great call on Clark.

Any idea how much these latest two track coaches add to the current $11+M the UTAD is paying former coaches and administrators (including Mike) not to work for UT anymore? Maybe we've topped the $12M mark! Clark going soon will certainly push us over!

CCLC writes:

I think if you fellas would have ponied up and bought that 5 dollar hooker and some red panties for hammy about 5 years ago .... you might be in this mess.
just sayin'

crimsonviper writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

^^^
Did not read.

CrankE writes:

in response to rivieravol:

You inbred rubes criticizing Adams just kill me. Can you find one fact in his column that is incorrect?

If you're going to defend yourself John, do it under your own name.

stevefrommemphis writes:

in response to wallandhiker:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Absolutely correct.

murrayvol writes:

in response to voloffaith:

That being said can any of you remember an Adams story about something at UT that was upbeat of positive? Don't hurt your head trying to remember. I'm sure there was one ,but they all seem to be piling on negativity much to his delight.

Sadly the track program that used to be top notch and competitive is now the dregs and almost laughing stock.

Putting a positive spin on all things UT is not John Adams' job. That responsibility falls to the university.

Quite honestly, I'm surprised the Governor hasn't declared the UT Athletic Dept. a disaster zone.

murrayvol writes:

in response to wallandhiker:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Doubt that anyone or any amount of money could've kept Dickey at Tennessee. The lure of his alma mater was too strong.

Irony is his leaving screwed up two programs and changed the history of SEC football.....and not in a good way for the Vols.

OrangePride writes:

Oh, I totally disagree.....things can get a LOT worse......unless, we get some stability, some folks in here that are on fire to win AND have the coaching ability to make that happen..like Coach Rohe, and Coach Summitt, and (yes) Coach Pearl or Coach Ray Mears. All of these were transformational individuals who put Tennessee on the map as a national program. The decline of Tennessee from 2001 to 2011 has been staggering at best. I think we have turned the corner at this point, but we so desperately need the right person at the AD post to really make this program fight its way back up. PLUS, do we have the right administrative leadership at this point? It's a real "wait and see" game right now and there is a growing number of VERY impatient people in Knoxville. Just read these boards for a few days and you will get the idea. So GO VOLS!!

vol73 writes:

Coach Woodruff always said "Any team worth having is worth supporting". Clearly the administration over the past few years has been contaent to raise money and ignore the state of the men's athletic programs. It is tragic what has occurred to the men's teams. Does anyone truly believe that combining the men's department with the women's under the leadership of a Title IX advocate will make things better? I think not.

Volunatic writes:

in response to workinlikehek:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes. Forecasting optimistic future possibilities is the number one objective in journalism. What has happened/is happening is irrelevant.

Volunatic writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Putting a positive spin on all things UT is not John Adams' job. That responsibility falls to the university.

Quite honestly, I'm surprised the Governor hasn't declared the UT Athletic Dept. a disaster zone.

While I don't share your level of pessimism, your posts frequently crack me up. The "disaster zone" comment was good.

Theo writes:

in response to OrangePride:

Oh, I totally disagree.....things can get a LOT worse......unless, we get some stability, some folks in here that are on fire to win AND have the coaching ability to make that happen..like Coach Rohe, and Coach Summitt, and (yes) Coach Pearl or Coach Ray Mears. All of these were transformational individuals who put Tennessee on the map as a national program. The decline of Tennessee from 2001 to 2011 has been staggering at best. I think we have turned the corner at this point, but we so desperately need the right person at the AD post to really make this program fight its way back up. PLUS, do we have the right administrative leadership at this point? It's a real "wait and see" game right now and there is a growing number of VERY impatient people in Knoxville. Just read these boards for a few days and you will get the idea. So GO VOLS!!

A lot of people on this site will disagree with me just because she is a woman. But, I think it would be a great thing for Joan Cronnan to stay on as interim for 18 - 24 months. She won't do it but she has a boat load of goodwill built up with the Vol community and the NCAA. Her devotion to UT is unquestioned and she is a steady hand at the till with a record of excellence. She could get us through all of these tough transitions and then hand it over to the new, permanent AD as a clean start. It's a big ask for someone who is ready to retire and slow down but the Vols need her.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Volunatic:

While I don't share your level of pessimism, your posts frequently crack me up. The "disaster zone" comment was good.

I'm in a 12 step plan to get over it but these guys make it hard.

OrangePride writes:

in response to Theo:

A lot of people on this site will disagree with me just because she is a woman. But, I think it would be a great thing for Joan Cronnan to stay on as interim for 18 - 24 months. She won't do it but she has a boat load of goodwill built up with the Vol community and the NCAA. Her devotion to UT is unquestioned and she is a steady hand at the till with a record of excellence. She could get us through all of these tough transitions and then hand it over to the new, permanent AD as a clean start. It's a big ask for someone who is ready to retire and slow down but the Vols need her.

Have to agree with you about Joan C. Obviously, at this point she would like to reduce the complications in her life and not add to them. BUT, this is such a critical crossroad and so uniquely complicated that her leadership has never been more needed. Although a very long shot, I am hoping that perhaps those around her will convince her to take a bit longer in this role...even 18 months would be a good result. If not, then I hope she is able to identify and hire someone very special. Good post, Theo.

distancevol writes:

in response to Theo:

A lot of people on this site will disagree with me just because she is a woman. But, I think it would be a great thing for Joan Cronnan to stay on as interim for 18 - 24 months. She won't do it but she has a boat load of goodwill built up with the Vol community and the NCAA. Her devotion to UT is unquestioned and she is a steady hand at the till with a record of excellence. She could get us through all of these tough transitions and then hand it over to the new, permanent AD as a clean start. It's a big ask for someone who is ready to retire and slow down but the Vols need her.

Joan Cronnan is the one who hired JJ Clark in the first place, then she leaned on hammy to give him Men's Track as well. She then allowed him to fire both George Watts and Norbert Elliot! This has ruined men's Track & Field for years to come!

AMEDDVOL writes:

Track and Field has such a rich history at the University of Tennessee. At one time it was one of just a handful of schools that could claim national championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. Many former Volunteer track athletes remain in East Tennessee and have stayed connected with the track program. These athletes have been instrumental in many community programs such as the youth track program in the summer and other programs through the KTC. The firing of Coach Watts has really undone 40+ years of alumnis networking and support for the track program which is a shame. Instead of embracing tradition this University has turned its back on it which is a shame.

VolAlum03ISBACK (Inactive) writes:

in response to VolMoment:

CrankE has it right. One of the biggest celebration will be when the KNS decides THEY have gone as low as they can and saying we are going to get better and we can prove it by letting the door hit john adams in the A-- as he leaves.
What a celebration it will be!!!!

That's right. Shoot the messenger. John Adams horrible reporting (of the truth, however uncomfortable your orange-a$S might find it) is by far the sole cause of the decline in our athletic program.

How about this. You have a keyboard and access to the internet, why don't you put together a better story. You can blow smoke up the skirt of every Vol fan who wants to ignore the truth.

vut56#231073 writes:

I am often critical of Adam's work. It is usually for style and not content. In this case, it seems most who object do not defend the dismal state of the track program but are turned off by the Johnny-come-lately observations and sarcastic approach.

Vol fans and supporters gain nothing by whistling in the dark, day dreaming or seeing the world through orange tinted glasses. We gain by having the facts; it is important how they are delivered...as, if we resent the method, we often miss the message. We should not shoot the messenger; we just need a new paper boy.

BubbaJ writes:

Great article Mr. Adams. Granted Tennessee Track is a "minor" sport compared to Football and Basketball, but something few have mentioned is how track athletes have through the years been such a plus to the Football program. Yes, Justin Hunter is doing the double now, but one has to go back to 2003 and Jabari Greer to find another who helped both programs. Coach Dooley has an interest in the success of the men's track program as well.

Many forget that Chuck Rohe was not only the pioneer of the hugely successful mens track program, but also a primary recruiter for Doug Dickey in football.

Coaches Rohe, Huntsman, Brown, had the mens track programs constantly ranked high on the national scene. Charlie Durham is a highly respected retired coach and meet director, who started with Coach Rohe in the '60s and retired from the local track scene about the time Doug Brown left. Coach Durham has witnessed many track meets through the years at Tom Black Track, not to mention directed one of the biggest high school meets in the country. Not that he dislikes J.J. Clark, he just knows that the direction of the men's track program is 180 degrees from where it once was, and now not looking to be headed in the right direction.

Long story short.. J.J. Clark should be the women's coach, and someone else needs to be hired to revive the failed men's program. Another task for the new AD.

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