John Adams: A buyout just for resigning? Really?

John Adams
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton (right) announces his resignation alongside chancellor Jimmy Cheek at the Stokely Family Media Center inside Neyland Stadium on June 7, 2011.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

UT athletic director Mike Hamilton (right) announces his resignation alongside chancellor Jimmy Cheek at the Stokely Family Media Center inside Neyland Stadium on June 7, 2011.

Mike Hamilton announces his resignation as Athletics Director for the University of Tennessee

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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 adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 122

kdaff51 writes:

I was wondering this myself. Going to have to run this past my boss!

rocket22 writes:

Why does the news media feel entitled to get access to all information that someone has. The simple answer that I would give you if I were Jimmy Cheek is "That is on a need to know basis and you do not need to know". Let the UT administration do their job and find a new athletic director, try to keep your nose out of matters that are of no concern to you since you have no input into the decision, and then report the facts when they are made available. I am not the least bit interested in who you or any other media member thinks should be the next AD, I am only interested in the facts as given by the university as to the search results.

prodgerm#392417 writes:

touche!

buzz29 writes:

I'm inspired. I'm going to quit my job and ask my employer for a million bucks. Wish me luck.

rivieravol writes:

Because Idiot UT is a public institution. Even though the UTAD is not funded by tax dollars it has to adhere to the public information laws of the state of Tennessee.

As a taxpayer of the state of Tennessee Adams or any other citizen has the right to know how public dollars are being spent.

VOLunTEAR writes:

Mike Hamilton, love him or hate him, did not exactly "run the company into the ground". He turned it from a loss-operation to a surplus (profit-making) operation. Scourge him for his hirings/firings/failings - but then try to be man enough to give him credit for his strengths and accomplishments. It must be easy to sit at a journalist's desk and know all the answers. I'll bet to be an AD in the SEC/NCAA is a little bit tougher - just like being a decent human being calls for a little more character than always being an armchair critic. Sheesh!

Caspian writes:

I've got no problem with it. But it tends to demonstrate that the "quitting" wasn't entirely Hamilton's idea. Let the man save some dignity. Call it a resignation. Call it Hamilton's idea. But even considering he was likely pushed - it doesn't diminish the contributions he made to UT primarily through fundraising and infrastructure. These benefits to UT support that kind of "buyout". Just because someone comes from a different budget framework in his or her current occupation doesn't mean all other frameworks are invalid.

NYvolFan writes:

Appears like Hamilton drew up his own agreement to resign as a total failure. This is a crock. $37,000/month for 3 YEARS for clear failure. I need a job in the UTAD. Cheek needs to go fast too. What a fool to admit to not having any prospects. WHY is the University of Tennessee UNABLE to hire decent administrators? Hamilton saw 5 UT Presidents in his 8-year stint. Shocking!

OrangePride writes:

As much as I have personally admired Mike Hamilton and his overall service to the University, THIS is over the top!! Cheek said he did not force Hamilton out? Then why this outrageous buyout package? Why this dead-of-night announcement of terms? Terms that were clearly available at the press conference, but deliberately avoided because they both knew this was an unconscionable misuse of funds. Given the total disregard for fiscal restraint, I am beginning to think that the University of Tennessee is using the same financial advisors as the Obama administration. Is anybody now buying that Hamilton just left on his own to spend "more family time?" Really?

VolMoment writes:

Adams as usual showed his inert ability. Did you noticed how he admitted that sports editors should run athletic programs and all corporation. He said that they had all said Hamilton should be fired. John is a little man in statue and has the little man syndrome.
Man if anybody needs firing it is John Adams, the weakest writer KNS has ever had in that position.
So all people who have the power to fire someone should just call Adams or some other sports editor and ask who to fire. John is such a joke! He could never hold a real job because it takes a man to hold a real job.

IMO writes:

Good livings to be made getting fired or being allowed to resign. Where do I sign up?

MrBamSeydu writes:

How about this... let's go ahead and fire everyone above Mike Hamilton while we're at it? Clean house???? 1.3 million "buyout" for a resignation is absolutely astonishing for an athletic director who has basically gone through and wiped out every major sport we have. Hamilton took over in 2003. All he had to hinge on was Bruce Pearl and that ended up slapping him back in the face harder than the pats on the back he was getting prior to the violations coming out. I say fire the chancellor too and anyone else who had a hand in this garbage.

OrangePride writes:

in response to bartlett79:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'm not certain exactly where you studied business law, however,in my experience, generally speaking resignations are not "owed" money or buyouts...regardless of the contracts currently in place. When you quit, such contracts are void and no longer in force. On the other hand, you get a severance package when, at the convenience of your organization, you are severed. That said; I agree that if this was some kind of an arranged, "we need to go in a new direction and you need to leave" agreement, then terms are mutually determined. Of course, such was NOT how Cheeks and Hamilton painted this picture today. It begs my original question, "does anyone still believe this was an entirely independent decision on the part of Hamilton to pay more attention to family?"

VolinCalif writes:

in response to rocket22:

Why does the news media feel entitled to get access to all information that someone has. The simple answer that I would give you if I were Jimmy Cheek is "That is on a need to know basis and you do not need to know". Let the UT administration do their job and find a new athletic director, try to keep your nose out of matters that are of no concern to you since you have no input into the decision, and then report the facts when they are made available. I am not the least bit interested in who you or any other media member thinks should be the next AD, I am only interested in the facts as given by the university as to the search results.

Just maybe you have forgotten that the Public in Tenn pay for most of those the school expenses, minus what the programs earn. So that info is public info and must be released per the freedom of Info rule. True we have no input into the decision making but that has nothing to do with releasing public inform. Just FYI I happen to like Mike for the many good things he has done. Kiffin was not his fault and I am sure that he didn't tell Bruce to tell a little fib. Dooley may not show a winning resume but he shows plenty of know how. He also knows how to assemble a staff. Mikes timing of when to announce things appear to be his biggest faults.

Couchdummy writes:

I had bought all the hype of "a good man" stepping aside for the good of the university until I read of this backroom deal. Questionable business practices seem to have become a way of life with all the unnecessary high buyout authorizationed by the UT administration----even for someone who resigns! Are these our taxpayer funds that these chancellors are tossing around like so much monopoly money, or do we get the song-and-dance about "athletic dept funds are separate"? Give me a break! Sounds like Hamilton wrote his own golden parachute deal and Cheek endorsed it.

eVOLved writes:

I don't like reading snarky JA columns, but this one is really bad. Wow, tells us that sometimes "resignations" are not really "resignations," but are in fact someone being sent away. There goes my starry-eyed view! And nobody pulished anything at a tricky time to trick journalists who don't have smartphones. JA goes for the old cable news rant routine, and it does get old.

OrangePride writes:

And just one added thing. Based on all the years of service that Mike provided the University, I am not at all adverse to financial package for him and his family as they move ahead. I just think the amount is high and sets a very poor precedent that may cause other problems in the future. We will have to see regarding that concern.

Ringleader writes:

Hamilton is being paid to keep his mouth shut. He ran the hostess with the mostest crew, and knew Kiffin, Reeves, Orgeron, etc........and paid their phony cell phone bills......a new cell phone number every five days for all of them.
This is the same style buyout Auburn has done over and over again.

BillyVol writes:

I have never said anything bad about John Adams, but this deserves this fans reaction. Because he was one of the ones singled out by Hamilton in the interview he wants to blast him right away. I am glad that Hamilton has left as a classy guy, but we still have a classless John Adams.

Volunteer-Varmint writes:

in response to IMO:

Good livings to be made getting fired or being allowed to resign. Where do I sign up?

WOW! I'm in the wrong profession. I wish I could take over a department worth millions, make it much better (even more profitable) before totally destroying everything, and walk out with a parachute of over 1M clams. He has GOT to have some major dirt on somebody and they are paying him to keep his mouth shut! Just think...in 3 or 4 years all these buy outs will be history, that is unless his replacement continues in the downward spiral. Let's hope not. Go Vols

MidTennVol writes:

in response to bartlett79:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Absolutely. This was indeed a termination, which can include such euphemisms as "He was asked to resign" or "It was mutually agreed that he should resign" and other such nonsense.

Nobody gets that kind of payout/severance if they leave of their own volition, if it was their own choice, if they did it without being asked, etc.

From the tenor and words of the press conference, it seems that they let him say he "resigned" for public consumption but privately, and legally, have terminated his contract just to give him a rather nice parachute.

Nice work if you can get it.

TarheelVol writes:

So long Mike, we'll really miss you...
Some YouTube LKS2 vids of Hamilton and
our favorite coach, Lane Kiffin, to remind
Vol fans of all the good times.

Coach Dooley and AD Hamilton discuss Dooley's arrival at UT
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin and AD Hamilton discuss the UT Hostesses scandal
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin explains the armed robbery incident to AD Hamilton
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin is reinstated by AD Hamilton
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin replaced as coach by AD Hamilton
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin meets with the SEC Commissioner
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin Show with Coach O explaining the Lamborghini Photo Shoot
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Coach Kiffin discusses the Lamborghini incident with AD Hamilton
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin "on the carpet", yet again,in AD Hamilton's office
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

Lane Kiffin "on the carpet" in AD Hamilton's office
http://www.youtube.com/user/lanekiffi...

utdoctor69 writes:

It’s Mike Hamilton’s fault that the football program has fallen so far.

Thanks to Mike Hamilton firing UT’s greatest football coach in modern history, the football Vols are about to get hit with NCAA probation. Why? Because Hammy fired Fulmer and hired Kiffin. That’s why. Period. It’s very simplistic. It’s Mike Hamilton’s fault that the Vols are going to get put on probation. Is the football program better off today than it was when Mike Hamilton was hired? Absolutely not!

On November 3, 2008, Mike Hamilton saw himself as a big shot. On June 7, 2011, he’s getting a taste of his own medicine. Good riddance Mike Hamilton.

Go Big Orange!

tnsportsman writes:

LOL the question to ask that 'Gator' Jimmy Cheek is; Hamilton's contract ends on June 30, 2011 so why the buy-out. Some of you legal eagles should know non-renewal of the contract ends the employment with no further compensation. Unless the contract called for an ending bonus, bet it didn't.

Oh well, guess it is worth it for Hamilton being gone, YES!

LOL Cheek, what do you have in writing for your golden parachute dude?

GO VOLS, VFL!

tovolny writes:

John Adams should have allowed someone else to write this article.

murrayvol writes:

in response to buzz29:

I'm inspired. I'm going to quit my job and ask my employer for a million bucks. Wish me luck.

Good luck.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

He's skipping because he didn't want to get booed at home.

tnsportsman writes:

in response to bartlett79:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I heard all day Hamilton's contract ends on 6/30/11, guess the media reporting that was wrong. But he did resign and should not get a buy-out IMO. 11 million in buy-outs to ex-coaches and a AD? Really, in this economy!

Either way HE IS GONE, YES!

Thanks for the info Barlett79!

GO VOLS, VFL!

ZacharyUTK writes:

Notice in the photo that Hamilton is wearing UT Orange and White, while Cheek is adorned in his Florida Orange and Blue. How very interesting...

KevDVol writes:

Is anyone surprised that even his resignation was a messy failure?

In 2001 we were 30 minutes away from a SEC Championship and a BCS National Championship Rose Bowl bid. And now, ten years later (eight under Hamilton)....

Man, I wish we had won that game. That was our last sniff.

VolNationPride writes:

Not sure what people are complaining about. He put in the years of service. He made the University a ton of money, over $400 Million as it was reported. He kept UT athletic dept. in the black. He made some questionable decisions, but you can't say he failed at his job. Partially failed maybe.

I am sure it was resign or be fired, happens all the time in business. He was entitled to a severence package, which is what he got. He got his base salary for 3 years, I am sure it was written in a contract at some point that he would get that.

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

We got rid of 1 of 2 jackasses now whats it take to get rid of you adams and it will be complete...Move over hamilton here comes Fulmer

TNPilgrim writes:

Considering the "quality" of UT Presidents from the recent past, it should come as no surprise that the worst AD in UT's history gets a hero's sendoff. The Board of Directors is ultimately responsible for hiring unqualified oafs like Wade Gilley and Mike Hamilton. Forgive me for having no confidence that their sock puppet Cheek will come up with anyone significantly better than Hamilton. UT's administration has demonstrated it's top-down mediocrity for a decade and there's no apparent reason it's blindly loyal fan and donor base should expect any sudden changes for the better.

The UT powers that be seem to define success as having the biggest stadiums and the most modern facilities to show off in brochures. Mike Hamilton was totally in sync with this philosophy. "He was great at raising money" was all anyone could find to say that was positive; hiring top quality coaches and developing championship athletic programs is an aptitude he does not possess. Apparently this shortcoming is also true of the UT Board of Directors. Once again, John Adams is just the messenger; there's no sense in berating him for exposing the faulty product inside the pretty and expensive packaging.

jumboliyah writes:

Just when you think these fiscally irresponsible pundits have reached the maximum depth of irrationality possible...they dredge the bottom of the hole a little deeper and plunge face first into the abyss.

mac_b_from_tn writes:

Did you do any research on his contract before you blasted him and Cheek? Believe it or not, in the real world there are people who work under contracts who get paid even if they quit. Usually that's compensation provided to fulfill a non-compete, but my point remains the same it's previously negotiated money no matter how you exit.

Even if this wasn't a specific, pre-negotiated, buyout it's not a stretch to believe Hamilton used the timing of the COI hearing as leverage to negotiate one. A friend of mine pulled this once. He negotiated his resignation right before a merger was consummated. He chose that moment because the deal was still tenuous enough to fall apart.

Hamilton resigning now gives him leverage in a buyout discussion that he won't have after the COI hearing. I doubt he would ever sabotage the hearing, but if he thought he was going to move on anyhow (and who didn't) then this would be his last opportunity to have any leverage in asking for money and favorable terms in leaving.

John, I expected you to trash him, but not to take this transparently populous stand to do it. While a lot of fans are glad he's gone their thankful for the time he's spent here and the good he has done, you trash his buyout without even acknowledging the 400 million raised in his tenure. Maybe, just maybe, if people like you were as good at their jobs as he is at fundraising, you'd get a big pay day too.

BankerVol writes:

John Hack Adams gets paid to write such drivel? Really?

Classof72 writes:

Thanks, John Adams, for a well-conceived and executed column. This farce begs the classic, oft-repeated Dave Barry line: "I am not making this up." Nobody could make this stuff up. Any Cheek that can participate in this without blushing is beyond the pale. UTK needs a new chancellor as of tomorrow morning. I cannot believe they're gonna let this doofus hire the next AD. Anybody who donates to UTAD under Cheek's stewardship needs to be declared incompetent to protect their heirs. By comparison, Hamilton and Cheek make Beavis and Butt-head look respectable.

The Rolling Stones should issue a new version of their classic: "Start Me Up":

"If you buy me out,
Buy me out, baby,
I will never shout...

...You make a grown man faint,
You make a grown man faint,
You make a grown man faint..."

tvol71 writes:

Well, Fulmer got a large payout, Raleigh a moderate payout for one year left, Pearl got some payout, and Kiffin departed for a minimal refund (which is actually probably a good thing, now that I think about it), so I guess Hamilton felt he should get some of the spoils. I am happy the Ath. Dept is giving money back to the school, but could give even more if they quit giving large buy-outs to everyone that they fire.

cpahiker#231287 writes:

the NCAA should throw the book at UT for stupidity. As to the contact law - yes, Hamilton had a contact. However, failure to perform basic compliance oversight such as the type of NCAA issues dealing with institutional control (in light of Lane Kiffin's flagert antagonisom of the NCAA under Hamilton's watch) would appear to give rise to cause for dismissal - but again Hamilton must have written his own contact.

tvol71 writes:

in response to rocket22:

Why does the news media feel entitled to get access to all information that someone has. The simple answer that I would give you if I were Jimmy Cheek is "That is on a need to know basis and you do not need to know". Let the UT administration do their job and find a new athletic director, try to keep your nose out of matters that are of no concern to you since you have no input into the decision, and then report the facts when they are made available. I am not the least bit interested in who you or any other media member thinks should be the next AD, I am only interested in the facts as given by the university as to the search results.

This is a public university funded by taxpayer dollars. Stick your head in the sand if you want to, but we all have a right to know how this money is spent, especially when it is squandered like this.

VolNationPride writes:

in response to Bryanbleedsorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

They are two different departments, guess you should complain to the academic side. UT athletic dept. is one of only a few that actually give money to the academic side. A recent donation in 2010 was $10 million.

As far as grants, student-athletes don't get those. Athletic scholarships are given from the Tennessee Fund, which is funded by donors, not the State.

tnoutlaw2001#228008 writes:

in response to VolinCalif:

Just maybe you have forgotten that the Public in Tenn pay for most of those the school expenses, minus what the programs earn. So that info is public info and must be released per the freedom of Info rule. True we have no input into the decision making but that has nothing to do with releasing public inform. Just FYI I happen to like Mike for the many good things he has done. Kiffin was not his fault and I am sure that he didn't tell Bruce to tell a little fib. Dooley may not show a winning resume but he shows plenty of know how. He also knows how to assemble a staff. Mikes timing of when to announce things appear to be his biggest faults.

If you are going to worry about UT and public funds, then you might be more interested in the fact that our former Governor Mr. Bredesen set up most if not all his former city staff (Mayor of Nashville) with cushy over paid state jobs. Some members of his staff were being paid $90,000 or more for working 19.5 per week.

Hamilton raised millions if not hundred of millions for UT, so handing him a little bit more than 1 million in severance is nothing.

Why not focus more on the misappropraition of tax payer monies on people that DO NOTHING to raise money, but keep taking and taking.

Lets get off this high horse about state funds. The politicians you put in office rob you blind daily and they raise no funds and no monies except when its time to get re-elected.

VolNationPride writes:

in response to tvol71:

This is a public university funded by taxpayer dollars. Stick your head in the sand if you want to, but we all have a right to know how this money is spent, especially when it is squandered like this.

Nope, Athletic Dept. is funded by donors and revenue from ticket sales and concessions. Athletics is basically a private business, totally separate from the public university.

The payout won't hurt the University, 11 million in payouts is nothing but a drop in the bucket. What might hurt is if they don't get an AD that can generate the revenue like Mike Hamilton. That is when it will hurt your pocket.

BreweryVol writes:

in response to rocket22:

Why does the news media feel entitled to get access to all information that someone has. The simple answer that I would give you if I were Jimmy Cheek is "That is on a need to know basis and you do not need to know". Let the UT administration do their job and find a new athletic director, try to keep your nose out of matters that are of no concern to you since you have no input into the decision, and then report the facts when they are made available. I am not the least bit interested in who you or any other media member thinks should be the next AD, I am only interested in the facts as given by the university as to the search results.

How in the world could you defend Cheek on this one. There is no way in the world that MH is deserving of a 1.3 million dollar buy out. You Sir or Madam are a complete idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In what job are you allowed to quit and get that kind of severance pay. NONE

mac_b_from_tn writes:

in response to tvol71:

This is a public university funded by taxpayer dollars. Stick your head in the sand if you want to, but we all have a right to know how this money is spent, especially when it is squandered like this.

UT's athletic program is completely self supporting and gives tens of millions to the educational side every year. This isn't money raised by sports use to pay their operating expenses (both planned and unplanned). I'm not saying you are doing this, but people who take the position that athletics spending takes money away from education are grossly ill informed.

VolNationPride writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors_Daddy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What truth? They could have just given him his 1.3 million and not held a press conference. Then people would complain they didn't have one, either way, people will complain.

Everyone wanted Hamilton gone, but are now upset that he got money. Guess they didn't really want him gone that bad.

BreweryVol writes:

in response to bartlett79:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Mike come on quit drinking the cool aide. You can not truly believe you are deserving of this buyout......Can you?

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

At least we have Rucker taking the high road on this one. You could stand to learn a few things in that department, Adams. I can guarantee that the money will be better spent by Hamilton than by most others...including myself...perhaps helping to support or rescue more AIS orphans. If that bothers you, then your problem is sad one. I don't know if I've read a more bitter, demoralizing article.

alfrizzle097 writes:

Me thinks Johnny is jealous.

BreweryVol writes:

in response to BankerVol:

John Hack Adams gets paid to write such drivel? Really?

Mike, seriously no more posts. I have never liked John Adams as a sports writer, because he has never played a sport in his life, nor has he ever coached one of his children in a sport his whole life........But he nailed this article.

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