Mike Strange: David Blackburn should hang in there

From what I'm hearing, Tennessee's search for a new athletic director hasn't inspired a ton of confidence. That goes for the searchers and the process.

It's been more than a month since Mike Hamilton announced he was, uh, going to pursue other interests. Vol fans seem to be frustrated by the perceived slow pace of the quest to name his successor.

That said, a swifter pace might have led to a mushroom cloud rising over the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.

Some believed Dan Radakovich of Georgia Tech to be the search committee's imminent selection. Then word of Georgia Tech's NCAA penalties hit the fan last Thursday.

The NCAA wasn't especially impressed by Georgia Tech's sense of cooperation with the investigation. All of a sudden, an otherwise attractive candidate has some 'splaining to do - if anyone at UT is still listening.

This search has been quiet once knee-jerk denials of interest were issued by several perceived candidates. That was to be expected in the early, undefined hours of the process.

But weeks have passed. At the moment, I'm not aware of a realistic name the administration could run up the flagpole that would elicit a universal salute.

Steve Orsini of SMU, Bubba Cunningham of Tulsa or Mike Thomas of Cincinnati might turn out to be excellent choices, but they would have to grow on a surly fan base over time.

Orsini, a co-captain on a 1977 Notre Dame national championship team, has a nice resume, running Conference USA programs at SMU and Central Florida.

Tulsa is a strong mid-major. Cunningham was all but introduced as the new AD at Kansas in December but backed out. He may be a Bubba but he too is from Notre Dame.

Thomas took over a tough situation at Cincinnati, post-Bob Huggins, and has made some progress. If nothing else he's the guy who gave Brian Kelly a shot.

The in-house candidate is David Blackburn. And if I'm Blackburn, I'd plant my feet and hang in there.

One strike against Blackburn, he isn't a sitting AD, a requirement the committee has used to defuse the candidacy of several interested parties, including Phillip Fulmer.

He is, however, a longtime veteran of the department. And as such, he surely recalls the 2003 AD search that ended with Hamilton succeeding his mentor, Doug Dickey.

Hamilton wasn't the people's choice. He got an interview early on, then watched the search committee flirt with one candidate then another.

John Shumaker was the president then and, in comparison, I'm not sure current UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek doesn't come off looking like Abe Lincoln.

The 2003 search devolved into a PR comedy of errors. If the details are fuzzy call Ron Wellman at Wake Forest or Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma.

Ultimately, Shumaker stood on the front steps of his Sequoyah Hills home - the one with the gold-plated barbecue grill - one May afternoon and introduced Hamilton.

"My theory through the whole process,'' Hamilton said that day, "has always been to be the last man standing.''

It was an effective strategy for a flawed process.

Who knows, it might yet work for Blackburn too.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. He may be reached at twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 49

FearlessFreep writes:

No more icestouos inbreeding at the UTAD. What's needed is a fresh persepctive, but someone who knows how to hire the right people, then get out of the way. Promoting from within is what led to this mess in the first place. It's time for an outside leader, but one who isn't foreign to the SEC.

VOL7 writes:

Mark Dyer is hands-down the best candidate by far. He's practically the UT AD already, what with UT having already outsourced all its marketing, concession sales, broadcasting, & now ticket sales to IMG. Mark heads up IMG's collegiate division, which bought out Bill Battle's old company & licenses all UT merchandise now, too. He is a 1981 graduate of UT, has been a successful CEO of multi-million dollar operations for many years, is a Nashville native, & still has Big Orange blood in his veins. He's the one to lead us back to the promised land & make the right, tough decisions to bring back championship trophies to The Hill.

FWBVol writes:

in response to FearlessFreep:

No more icestouos inbreeding at the UTAD. What's needed is a fresh persepctive, but someone who knows how to hire the right people, then get out of the way. Promoting from within is what led to this mess in the first place. It's time for an outside leader, but one who isn't foreign to the SEC.

I understand some of your concerns with the hiring from within, but just because Mike Hamilton didn't pan out doesn't mean that David Blackburn wouldn't.

Blackburn is a native of Loudon and was a student manager with the UT football program and has worked is way up the ladder from there. While he might not be the WOW hire some people are hoping for, and granted, he might not be the right person, he could very well be the right person for the job.

Fresh faces from the outside are nice if they don't try to reinvent UT into something it isn't. UT has had four ADs in my lifetime and three of them; the General, Bob Woodruff and Doug Dickey had previous UT ties. Another thing those three men had in common were they had all be head football coaches at the college level. I think most of us would agree that in most ways all three were better ADs that Mike Hamilton.

Don't get me wrong, I do not believe someone needs to have been a head football coach, or even the head coach of any sport, to be a successful AD. I do think that men and women that have had to make decisions on the fly in the heat of battle tend to be able to make the tough decisions better so that could qualify a successful business person as well.

Having UT ties might not be a prerequisit, but having an understanding of all things Vol should play a major role in the hire.

Our tradition is proud and I would prefer we hire someone with Southern roots. If they aren't a UT man or woman they should take note of the way Derek Dooley conveyed his knowledge of UT and embraced all things that make up the Big Orange.

FWBVol writes:

in response to VOL7:

Mark Dyer is hands-down the best candidate by far. He's practically the UT AD already, what with UT having already outsourced all its marketing, concession sales, broadcasting, & now ticket sales to IMG. Mark heads up IMG's collegiate division, which bought out Bill Battle's old company & licenses all UT merchandise now, too. He is a 1981 graduate of UT, has been a successful CEO of multi-million dollar operations for many years, is a Nashville native, & still has Big Orange blood in his veins. He's the one to lead us back to the promised land & make the right, tough decisions to bring back championship trophies to The Hill.

As I've mentioned in other posts, I was a freshman in Hess Hall on J-5 with Mark and I think he'd be a super choice to lead the program.

flatrock writes:

Former Vol captain, football A-A, academic A-A, 2-sport letter-winner, grad of U.T. dental school, successful businessman: Bill Emendorfer. Would be a great choice!

VolzsFan writes:

The only logical choice to attract, hire and manage great coaches is someone that was one. Someone that can flash a National Title ring at a school that does not win them. A future first ballot Hall of Famer. The choice is as logical as it was to fire the guy that ran it in the ground. That man is the Great Coach Fulmer.

And for those of you working in the oil change business, a $100 million dollar business where all the revenue is accounted for before a year starts and has no tax code to manage, is child's play to any middle manager. If someone wants a business man for some reason than Bill Schmidt is the guy. Hiring another sitting AD would be hiring another non athlete geek like the one they just fired.

Outdated writes:

Tim Irwin

huntined#565710 writes:

Just go get Bill Byrne at Texas A&M

Couchdummy writes:

Mickey Dearstone

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to huntined#565710:

Just go get Bill Byrne at Texas A&M

I hadn't heard that name mentioned in the AD search before, but that would be an excellent choice. I'm sure he's tired of playing in the shadows of Texas, and there are some out there that believe that the new ESPN/ Longhorn Network has the Aggie fan base riled up because of the unfair advantage. A&M was also pretty close to joining the SEC last year. I say Byrne should come on over and test the water.

gortrtt writes:

UT's men's athletics programs have for decades thrived while being led by athletics directors who were former football coaches who coached and/or played at Tennessee: Neyland, Barnhill, Wyatt, Woodruff, Dickey. 1926 - 2003. 77 years and 12 national championships for men's football, track, and cross country.

UT's men's athletics programs were, in less than 1 decade, decimated by a pencil-pushin', MBA-havin', fund-raisin' numbers guy: Mike Hamilton. This guy left none of the big 4 men's programs healthy. His leadership brought baseball low, killed the track program, and brought down significant heat onto the big two - basketball and football. Yeah, Pearl was a good floor coach, but his players were often in trouble and he ended up getting fired over a combination of basic dishonesty and stupidity. And the Kiffin hire worked out great, didn't it? Hey Hamilton, how inept do you have to be to make Al Davis look smart?

I'm not really concerned with what other schools do. Tennessee's programs, especially football, need an AD who understands that our coaches, especially football coaches, suffer from a deficit of in-state talent. And although Memphis produces quite a bit of basketball talent, UT has traditionally faced an uphill battle in gaining commitment from recruits there. Regardless, guiding Tennessee sports through this difficulty requires a certain talent that these former coaches seem to possess. The MBA's seem to lack that talent.

Tennessee sports IS a big business. But it has seen its greatest success with AD's who understood that success on the field generates the money. Tennessee's present dark hour has been brought on by the philosophy that a coat of paint and $7 hot dogs will generate success on the field.

Hopefully, this next AD hire will be evidence that the powers-that-be have returned to some sort of cogency.

gortrtt writes:

There's at least one guy around here who would LOVE to have the job.

Too bad he's not an MBA-type like Neyland.

Oh, wait, the General was MERELY A COACH, but VERY qualified for the AD position. Hmmm, interesting.

writer#358485 writes:

Phil Fulmer is the logical choice. Hamilton fired him during a down-cycle for the team, but he also brought Tennessee to the peak--a national championship. Football teams go through cycles, even "Bear" Bryant's did. If they didn't, Nebraska, Florida State and Notre Dame would still be trading the national championship about each year.

Fulmer has all the prerequisites to be a great AD at Tennessee and he has a soon-to-be-great football coach in Dooley--son of a great football coach.

Hamilton was a disaster and his knee-jerk reaction in firing Fulmer to please the "win-every-game right-now" nut-cases shouldn't poison the well for Fulmer being the AD. We need someone who breaths orange air!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to PatientlyWaiting:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I was thinking the other day what with all the trouble we've been through lately we still have winning programs and football is showing signs of complete recovering....and as I write that....WE WENT TO A BOWL GAME LAST YEAR....all this doom and gloom and we still have a great ELITE program that most just dream about....now thar boys...attack, attack, attack.....

NYvolFan writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

I hadn't heard that name mentioned in the AD search before, but that would be an excellent choice. I'm sure he's tired of playing in the shadows of Texas, and there are some out there that believe that the new ESPN/ Longhorn Network has the Aggie fan base riled up because of the unfair advantage. A&M was also pretty close to joining the SEC last year. I say Byrne should come on over and test the water.

I agree. I've heard him speak at several NACDA conferences and always came away impressed. I also think we have something to sell in Knoxville itself versus many of the rinky-dink towns most of the best AD's out there are currently living in. Most would be very impressed by KnoxVegas IMO.

CoverOrange writes:

"This search has been quiet once knee-jerk denials of interest were issued by several perceived candidates."

Knee-jerk denials brought on by knee-jerk inquiries by KNS.

CoverOrange writes:

The 2003 search was pre-GVX. How did the people have a voice back then?

TommyJack writes:

in response to writer#358485:

Phil Fulmer is the logical choice. Hamilton fired him during a down-cycle for the team, but he also brought Tennessee to the peak--a national championship. Football teams go through cycles, even "Bear" Bryant's did. If they didn't, Nebraska, Florida State and Notre Dame would still be trading the national championship about each year.

Fulmer has all the prerequisites to be a great AD at Tennessee and he has a soon-to-be-great football coach in Dooley--son of a great football coach.

Hamilton was a disaster and his knee-jerk reaction in firing Fulmer to please the "win-every-game right-now" nut-cases shouldn't poison the well for Fulmer being the AD. We need someone who breaths orange air!

Phil Fulmer? You're kidding around. Right?

scvols writes:

in response to PatientlyWaiting:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I hated to say it, but it looks like your are right. It is hard to believe that some are not at least knocking on the door.

Theo writes:

I really believe Joan Cronan should stay for 12 - 18 months or at least until we hear the final results from the NCAA. I can't imagine that really top notch candidates would be willing to take the job without knowing the whole story. I don't see settling for second best just to get it done within a short time frame.

volinky writes:

David would be an excellent choice! He is the guy who grew up in the area and has climbed his way to the top. I think it would be perfect to have a former student-manager, who dates back to the 86 Sugar bowl, and has been with the program nearly the whole time since. I think he coached at Morristown (East or West...) for a couple years. He has been my choice all along!

castoff121 writes:

Don't get me wrong, Fulmer holds a special place in my heart. But, just review his hiring successes during his tenure as football coach before giving him the AD job. Maybe Cutcliff would be a better candidate?

FearlessFreep writes:

Hiring someone who has spent his entire professional career at Tennessee will only lead to similar results.

It is time for fresh thinking within the department, and that can only be gained from bringing in someone with outside experience.

I'm sure David Blackburn is a great person and good administrator. But Tennessee, as we've seen, is no place for on-the-job training as an Athletic Director.

Orange_Scooter writes:

I think Fulmer hired an ad agency to spam the more relevant UT boards/news sites/forums/etc. Some of the Fulmerites above just seem to copy and paste the same thing over and over again whenever the AD position makes it into the news. It reminds me of those annoying dating spam adverts that you regularly see on sites like ESPN's message and comments section. Heck, you might as well see this:

"Hi, I am an out-of-work, complacent big boy who loves to get down and dirty. My favorite hobbies include watching filmum, clapping, and eating doughnuts. If you are lonely and need an AD, come chat with me at www.Shoneys_BigBoy_Fulmer.com."

gortrtt writes:

in response to Orange_Scooter:

I think Fulmer hired an ad agency to spam the more relevant UT boards/news sites/forums/etc. Some of the Fulmerites above just seem to copy and paste the same thing over and over again whenever the AD position makes it into the news. It reminds me of those annoying dating spam adverts that you regularly see on sites like ESPN's message and comments section. Heck, you might as well see this:

"Hi, I am an out-of-work, complacent big boy who loves to get down and dirty. My favorite hobbies include watching filmum, clapping, and eating doughnuts. If you are lonely and need an AD, come chat with me at www.Shoneys_BigBoy_Fulmer.com."

And you copy and paste the same responses.

Hounddawg writes:

David Howell is the choice. I dont know what Cheeks is waiting on.

Orange_Scooter writes:

in response to gortrtt:

And you copy and paste the same responses.

Pot meet kettle.

castoff121 writes:

in response to TheBigE:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Reread my post, but this time...think sarcasm. Fulmer made horrible hires, therefore he is a horrible candidate.

thevoice writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I too think he would be a great choice. The problem is, he brings too much divisiveness with him. Right off the bat, half the fanbase would not be happy. Cheek knows this. I like the man, just not as a coach.

CoverOrange writes:

Fresh = Clawson
Fresh = Kiffin
Fresh DNE better

ole3putt writes:

Why not Mickey Dearstone? He knows everything, if you don't think so, just ask him. He will tell you.

barefoot43 writes:

Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.
Charles Davis.

First one to 10 wins.

Couchdummy writes:

in response to ole3putt:

Why not Mickey Dearstone? He knows everything, if you don't think so, just ask him. He will tell you.

Thats right! Like my wife. When I got married in the days before the prevelance of internet, I sold my encyclopedia because my wife knew everything!

spvol writes:

Just 5 words: Billy Joe Tom Bob Parker.

murrayvol writes:

in response to gortrtt:

There's at least one guy around here who would LOVE to have the job.

Too bad he's not an MBA-type like Neyland.

Oh, wait, the General was MERELY A COACH, but VERY qualified for the AD position. Hmmm, interesting.

Lower the flag gortie. Even Phil knows it ain't gonna happen.

gortrtt writes:

Probably true, but history says that those are the guys that are going to have success.

Whoever they hire, let's all of us Vols fans hope it turns out better than the debacle that was Mike Hamilton.

Pompey writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

...you must be part of the conspiracy that mentions Fulmer for every important job at UT just to drive the rest of us crazy.....

RoadTrip writes:

You don't hire a guy (Fulmer) back that failed at his job and was fired by the AD that did the bidding of the money backers of the program, who is now gone himself. Ain't going to happen.

Blackburn would make a very good choice. He knows all of the key people and staff. He knows compliance. He knows the numbers and conducting fund raisers. He knows what works for coaches and more importantly what doesn't. He is orange blooded, has good character and is well spoken.

If not him, someone with similar traits and AD experience is what they need.

Classof72 writes:

If they paid a search firm to vet candidates and were about to offer Radakovich (google: Ga Tech probation), then the situation is hopeless, but not serious.

Hopeless, because, as Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid."

Not serious, because who in the world could take this circus seriously?

To paraphrase Tina Turner, "We Don't Need Another Nero."

PEYDAY writes:

Why is an insider so bad? If I was in the business of say banking, wouldn't I want to hire someone that had a lot of experience in the banking industry? Since we are hiring someone for the business that is UT athletics shouldn't we hire someone that has a lot of experience in UT athletics?

By the way - nice article... I read basically the exact same one over the weekend by Chris Lowe on ESPN.com.

Orange_Scooter writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Haw, haw, haw. I am sure you do. No coach should be above the university, but in your mind Fulmer should. Fulmer. The Duke of Doughnuts. The Vol for Life that stabbed Majors in the back. He brought his fall from grace down on himself, yet you Fulmer sheep prattle on and on about that one NC. Even less than mediocre coaches would have had two or three NC's if they'd had the same talent as Fulmer squandered over the years (with probably fewer player arrests). You also never mention the the ten years or so of horrid coaching, the arrests, the mediocrity, the losing seasons.

What I find funny is that you Fulmerites bash Dooley and Kiffin for their coaching, yet give Fulmer a free pass. We all know you and your kind don't give a whit's dang about the university or football. Y'all only care about the good old boy power trip that Fulmerites had when ole Phil was checking the filmums and clapping along. He's gone, let him go, and go back to being a loser all clad in black and gold.

Oh, also, I love people who think they are, or were, Vol fans but root for Vandy because they are butt hurt that Fulmer no longer coaches. I got news for you, if UT loses "fans" like you it's a good thing. I guarantee you that a large percentage of the fan base hates bandwagon fans. Yet here you are claiming UT has no loyal fans. Fulmer had loyalty from the fanbase and blew it, he got to walk away with a cool $6,000,000.00 to show for his loyalty to the University even though he didn't deserve it.

VolGrad writes:

in response to spvol:

Just 5 words: Billy Joe Tom Bob Parker.

Excellent choice! Who else know "rebuilding a program" better than Coach Billy Joe Tom Bob Parker?!

bbmon13#478091 writes:

Maybe we should get the Vol Historian to step in and give us some perspective on the Athletic Director search - he did such a bang up job on the Bowden Wyatt story the other day, I'm sure he'd have some well-timed useless, incorrect, and invalid information regarding the search.

Dyer should be the guy - but you can't get these guys that work in these universities to think outside of their collective boxes. Remember, these administrators, presidents, etc., are some of the most out of touch individuals in society - what makes you think they'd understand the successes of private business or what it takes to be successful in the business world?? They only talk amongst themselves.

VolAlum03ISBACK (Inactive) writes:

in response to writer#358485:

Phil Fulmer is the logical choice. Hamilton fired him during a down-cycle for the team, but he also brought Tennessee to the peak--a national championship. Football teams go through cycles, even "Bear" Bryant's did. If they didn't, Nebraska, Florida State and Notre Dame would still be trading the national championship about each year.

Fulmer has all the prerequisites to be a great AD at Tennessee and he has a soon-to-be-great football coach in Dooley--son of a great football coach.

Hamilton was a disaster and his knee-jerk reaction in firing Fulmer to please the "win-every-game right-now" nut-cases shouldn't poison the well for Fulmer being the AD. We need someone who breaths orange air!

Fulmer had stagnated. The program and recruiting had stagnated. He wasn't in a "slump." New coaches like Meyer and Saban had shown that he could easily be beaten...repeatedly. Whatever edge Fulmer had leading up to 1998 was gone by 2006. The only knee jerk reaction Hamilton displayed was to extend Fulmer a multimillion dollar contract for losing (again) at the 2007 SEC championship.

We don't need someone who "breaths orange." We need someone who can make great hires, manage the boosters, and handle both the women's and men's athletic departments. Who cares if the new AD is an orange fanatic as long as he gets the job done?

PEYDAY writes:

in response to Orange_Scooter:

Haw, haw, haw. I am sure you do. No coach should be above the university, but in your mind Fulmer should. Fulmer. The Duke of Doughnuts. The Vol for Life that stabbed Majors in the back. He brought his fall from grace down on himself, yet you Fulmer sheep prattle on and on about that one NC. Even less than mediocre coaches would have had two or three NC's if they'd had the same talent as Fulmer squandered over the years (with probably fewer player arrests). You also never mention the the ten years or so of horrid coaching, the arrests, the mediocrity, the losing seasons.

What I find funny is that you Fulmerites bash Dooley and Kiffin for their coaching, yet give Fulmer a free pass. We all know you and your kind don't give a whit's dang about the university or football. Y'all only care about the good old boy power trip that Fulmerites had when ole Phil was checking the filmums and clapping along. He's gone, let him go, and go back to being a loser all clad in black and gold.

Oh, also, I love people who think they are, or were, Vol fans but root for Vandy because they are butt hurt that Fulmer no longer coaches. I got news for you, if UT loses "fans" like you it's a good thing. I guarantee you that a large percentage of the fan base hates bandwagon fans. Yet here you are claiming UT has no loyal fans. Fulmer had loyalty from the fanbase and blew it, he got to walk away with a cool $6,000,000.00 to show for his loyalty to the University even though he didn't deserve it.

Most of the time when people get defensive like this it's because they are really deep down inside insecure about their beliefs so they have to lash out in hatred towards those that disagree with them in order to feel more secure. They are incapable of having rational discussions and often fall back on name calling and rudeness to try to get their point across.

Orange_Scooter writes:

in response to PEYDAY:

Most of the time when people get defensive like this it's because they are really deep down inside insecure about their beliefs so they have to lash out in hatred towards those that disagree with them in order to feel more secure. They are incapable of having rational discussions and often fall back on name calling and rudeness to try to get their point across.

PEYDAY- "Fulmer would be a great choice. We could only be so lucky."

Look in a mirror much? :)

Oranj writes:

in response to PatientlyWaiting:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Even we west coasters are surprised it is taking this long and that's with an extra 3 hours! But just maybe an inexplainable requirement that the individual actually resides outside the city of Knoxville throws a logistical wrench into the inbred process

bison_vol writes:

in response to Orange_Scooter:

I think Fulmer hired an ad agency to spam the more relevant UT boards/news sites/forums/etc. Some of the Fulmerites above just seem to copy and paste the same thing over and over again whenever the AD position makes it into the news. It reminds me of those annoying dating spam adverts that you regularly see on sites like ESPN's message and comments section. Heck, you might as well see this:

"Hi, I am an out-of-work, complacent big boy who loves to get down and dirty. My favorite hobbies include watching filmum, clapping, and eating doughnuts. If you are lonely and need an AD, come chat with me at www.Shoneys_BigBoy_Fulmer.com."

You are an idiot.

PEYDAY writes:

in response to Orange_Scooter:

PEYDAY- "Fulmer would be a great choice. We could only be so lucky."

Look in a mirror much? :)

Yes, every day. How bout you?

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features