Mike Hamilton announces his resignation as Athletics Director for the University of Tennessee
In the week since University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton first offered to resign, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek has yet to compile a list of potential replacements.
That's expected to change very soon, maybe even before Saturday's Committee on Infractions hearing in Indianapolis.
And Cheek, who said Tuesday he expects to name a replacement within the next six to eight weeks, doesn't see the cloud of negativity surrounding one of the nation's most profitable athletic departments as a hurdle to putting UT in "a better place in the future than we are today."
"We're going to look for someone that can provide leadership both internally and externally to the athletic program. We're going to look for someone that can lead us to the next level," Cheek said at a morning press conference before reporters, UT coaches and administrators at Neyland Stadium.
"This is that opportunity."
That opportunity arrived in abrupt but long-anticipated fashion at last week's Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin, Fla., when Hamilton, 47, first presented the idea of resigning to Cheek.
One day later, Hamilton reaffirmed his decision.
"When he brought the decision to me, I supported his decision," Cheek said. "Mike's character, his integrity, his deep faith, has served him well in the past and will serve him well as he moves forward to the next challenges of his life."
An interim athletic director will be named later in the week, Cheek said. Because his resignation does not go into effect until the end of the month, Hamilton will still represent the UT athletic department Saturday and field questions about 12 major violations in men's basketball and football from the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
Hamilton said he will not head the ongoing search to find a new baseball coach.
Nearly eight years to the day when he was promoted to replace a retiring Doug Dickey, Hamilton cited numerous reasons, all of which circled back to the department's lingering investigation by the NCAA, for his decision to walk away from the university where he'd been an employee since 1992.
"I've never experienced more challenge or frustration in my 26 years of professional life than during the last 18 months," Hamilton said in his opening statement, which also quoted a Bible passage and touched on a February trip to Africa.
"I accept the responsibility for the things that have led to some of these challenges. Ultimately, I think today was inevitable based upon today's operating environment in college athletics."
Reactions to news of Mike Hamilton's resignation
Hamilton, whose resignation is effective June 30, will receive $1.335 million in buyout money over the next three years, according to his separation agreement and release. He also has rights to eight lifetime complimentary season tickets for UT football and men's basketball, as well as two parking permits for each sport.
That, and a number of other benefits, are all subject to revocation and penalty if he publicly disparages UT during that time frame.
"I want peace for the University of Tennessee. This is too great a place to not have that peace," Hamilton said. "We have been in a period of turmoil that needs to end, and if I could help end that turmoil by stepping aside, I thought that was important."
It wasn't always so rocky for Hamilton, who spearheaded the construction of Pratt Pavilion, helped generate hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for renovations to Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena and was doing the same for a new, $48 million indoor practice facility for the football program. Those endeavors largely kept Hamilton, the father of five adopted children, behind the scenes and out of the spotlight while he notched numerous program records in donation money.
That all changed in 2008, when Hamilton fired longtime football coach Phillip Fulmer midway through the 2008 season. Fulmer's replacement, Lane Kiffin, committed numerous secondary and major violations in his one season with the Vols before leaving for the same position at the University of Southern California. The damage was done to the storied football program by the time Hamilton hired current coach Derek Dooley as Kiffin's replacement in 2010.
By December 2012, when Fulmer receives his final paycheck from a $6 million buyout, UT will have paid $9,100,385.53 in buyout money to the five, high-profile coaches Hamilton has fired.
For years, Hamilton was lauded for his decision to fire Buzz Peterson and hire Bruce Pearl as the school's men's basketball coach in 2005. The program reached new heights under the popular Pearl.
But Hamilton's demise and that of Pearl, who was fired in March because of his role in the major violations alleged against the men's basketball program, ultimately went hand in hand.
"For the majority of time that I was his men's basketball coach, we built something very special," Pearl said in a statement released to the News Sentinel. "I am so sorry that some of my mistakes and the results from them contributed to all that our athletics family and university have been through."
Hamilton said he "probably will" be an athletic director again at some point in his career. For now, he said he will "take time to evaluate some other things."