Dave Serrano hasn't shied away from addressing the scrutiny of his academic credentials in the past, and he certainly wasn't planning to when he interviewed to become Tennessee's new baseball coach last month.
He said he had nothing to hide, and the members of UT's search committee felt the same way.
"I understand when you're working with higher education that it's going to be an issue," said Serrano, speaking with the News Sentinel during last week's baseball media opportunity at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. "I never tried to mask anything or hide anything."
As an assistant at Cal State Fullerton in 2003, Serrano obtained a bachelor's degree from The Trinity College and University. Classified by many as a "diploma mill," the institution is not accredited and will award the degrees for "life experience." According to its website, the The Trinity College and University is registered in Dover, Del., and based out of Spain.
Following a 2007 season in which he was named Baseball America's Coach of the Year for taking UC Irvine to the College World Series, Serrano emerged as a front-runner for the coaching vacancy at Oregon. Shortly after Serrano interviewed, a Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard story raised questions about the validity of his degree.
After Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny told the newspaper he was "reviewing" Serrano's degree, Serrano, who also interviewed at UT during that time, withdrew his name from consideration and ultimately landed at Fullerton.
Serrano, who spent two years at Cerritos College and one at Fullerton as a player, said he was urged by his "superiors" at Fullerton to finish the work toward his degree. The Trinity College and University was "the way they felt he could do it."
"Obviously, sometimes you make choices in life and there's scrutiny out there," Serrano said. "I would prefer to be judged by the people and the players over all my years of my coaching career, what I've done for people as a coach and a mentor and how I've led them in life and being successful.
"People could judge my education, but I know when it comes to coaching and leading young men, I feel like I have a doctorate in that area."
Shortly after former coach Todd Raleigh was relieved of his duties in May, UT, on its online job board, requested that its new baseball coach possessed a bachelor's degree, but it did not require one. That caveat in the job description was atypical of the school's previous and present requirements for its coaching positions.
Currently, UT is looking to hire three assistant coaches - two for men's track and field and one for volleyball. All three positions require a bachelor's degree and prefer a Master's, according to the job descriptions on UT's official website.
UT women's athletic director Joan Cronan, who, as interim vice chancellor of athletics, spearheaded the baseball coaching search after Mike Hamilton's resignation, said she wasn't involved in the hiring process when the job post was drafted.
"We did our due diligence and looked at (academic progress rates) and grade-point averages," Cronan said. "His history in there was as high as any of the coaches we looked at. The importance of graduating his players was very important.
"I thought he was the best total package for Tennessee."
In Serrano's final two years at Cal State Fullerton, his teams notched back-to-back APR scores of 939, 14 above the benchmark set by the NCAA. Only once, his first year at Fullerton, did a Serrano-coached team score below 925.
"I want the proof to be in the pudding with how many kids are graduated from this university and what we're doing with these kids and what they do when they get out of here," Serrano said. "And I don't just mean Major League Baseball."
Inheriting a program that was hit with APR-related sanctions during Raleigh's tenure, Serrano doesn't exactly have much room for error when it pertains to academics. With a hire that she considers to be a "home run" at the helm, Cronan said the program is in good hands with Serrano, no matter how he acquired his degree.
"Anybody who knows Joan Cronan knows that I firmly believe that they're students first and athletes second," Cronan said. "It was important that we hire somebody that academics was important to them. At the end of the day, I felt that academics were very important to Dave Serrano."