The news conference was for show. The press release was for dough.
But most of the media at the news conference didn’t know that while it was asking questions about Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton’s “resignation” Tuesday morning.
When asked about Hamilton’s severance package, chancellor Jimmy Cheek said that information would be available after the news conference.
In fact, that information barely made the front page of the seven-page release. Talk about burying the lead.
It reads: “In consideration of the promises in this Agreement, the University agrees to pay Mr. Hamilton the total sum of One Million Three Hundred Thirty-Five Thousand Dollars ($1,335,000).”
“I almost passed out when I read that,” one UT employee said.
I even did a double take, and I expect UT to toss big money at the feet of anybody who so much as applies for a job there. Corporate America has nothing on UT. It’s as though you could drive a business to the abyss of ruin and parachute away to financial bliss before the final crash.
Since when do you get a buyout for resigning?
That’s just one of the questions even a first-year journalism student would have been prompted to ask during the news conference — if the option had been available. The information was disseminated to news agencies before the news conference but not made available to all of those at the news conference until afterwards.
So Cheek and Hamilton had both fled the scene by the time most of the attending media had seen the press release and the $1,335,000 figure that couldn’t have stood out more if it had been flashing neon. Imagine how differently Hamilton’s speech would have been received if we had known.
Hamilton admitted he had become a lightning rod for criticism and was accountable for some of his programs’ struggles. But neither he nor Cheek would address the $1.335 million payout, which raises huge questions about almost everything that was said at the news conference.
Although they said the resignation was all Hamilton’s idea, UT will still pay him more than a million dollars. That makes less sense than some of the decisions Hamilton made in his last year on the job.
Basketball coach Bruce Pearl didn’t get that much going-away money, and he was fired. Oh by the way, he also took the Vols to six consecutive NCAA tournaments.
UT’s football and basketball programs are going before the NCAA Committee on Infractions this Saturday in Indianapolis. For those living in a cave, they’re not about to receive the lifetime achievement award.
On an upbeat note, the UT baseball program is not going before the Committee on Infractions. It didn’t go to the SEC tournament, either, since Hamilton hired Todd Raleigh as his coach four years ago. Hamilton stuck around just long enough to fire Raleigh.
That’s a synopsis of what’s going on with the three major programs in the men’s athletic department.
Yet Cheek said he was satisfied with the job Hamilton was doing. He also spoke so glowingly about the attractiveness of the athletic director’s job, I thought he was talking about another school.
Forgive me if I don’t find it reassuring that he’s heading up the hunt for a new athletic director.
Cheek was asked if he had a list of possible candidates.
“No,” he didn’t.
Your three most high-profile programs have high-profile problems. Fans are in an uproar over Hamilton’s job performance. Almost every sports columnist in the state has written that Hamilton should be fired.
But the chancellor didn’t have a list of possible candidates. Isn’t that Administration 101? Doesn’t every athletic director in the country have a list of head-coaching candidates for every sport — just in case? Doesn’t every head coach have a list of potential assistants?
Is that too much contingency planning to ask of a university chancellor?
I do agree with Cheek’s decision to conduct a nationwide search. Somewhere, some capable administrator might be attracted to a job that includes a passionate fan base, terrific facilities, a great sports tradition, and a farewell payoff that could make a grown man faint.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.