For donors, reuniting UT fans is key

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

Unifying a fractured fan base and rebuilding trust with University of Tennessee supporters should be a priority in hiring the next athletic director, boosters agreed.

Donors sounded off following Mike Hamilton's resignation - effective June 30 - during a press conference at Neyland Stadium on Tuesday morning.

His announcement comes days before the university and its former coaches head to a meeting before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis to face allegations of 12 major rules violations. Those charges have created a rift in a fan base split over the firing of the most successful basketball coach in school history and the tarnishing of the program's image.

And while donors said they respect Hamilton, his prowess for fundraising and his improvements to the athletics facilities on campus, some said they see this as a "fresh start."

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"I know the divisiveness was really difficult for (Hamilton), as it would be for any of us. I think that was the ultimate driver," said Larry Pratt, president of a Washington, D.C.-area mortgage company and a donor whose namesake is Pratt Pavilion. "Looking forward, it was probably a strategic move to have it done prior to the NCAA hearings, so it helps us all focus on getting the university headed in the right direction, because we've had a number of distractions over the last many months."

Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said Tuesday afternoon that he will consult a close group of advisors made up of representatives of campus constituents - faculty, athletics and others - as he embarks on his first-ever athletics director search.

Cheek arrived in February 2009 and has had reign over athletics only since last summer, when the board of trustees moved the department under his purview. Before then, the athletics director reported to the president of the UT system.

UT system President Joe DiPietro was hired in October and also has little athletic department experience.

"Who knows, maybe that will help," quipped trustee George Cates. "I'm not sure that's a negative at all."

Cheek expects to have a replacement in six to eight weeks.

Reactions to news of Mike Hamilton's resignation

Jim Murphy, vice chair of the board of trustees, said the chancellor has a tough task in replacing Hamilton.

"(Hamilton's) an outstanding guy and he's done a lot of good things for the university, so obviously we're going to have to work hard to find somebody to replace him," Murphy said. "Ultimately he's got to hire someone he can work with."

Building support for the university will be "one of the major objectives of the athletic director," Cheek said.

While Pratt insisted on finding "the best person for the job" and suggested that person will most likely come from outside the university's network, others were convinced of the value of finding a leader with UT ties.

"Being not only a booster, but a letterman, we need Tennessee people to run Tennessee," said Cleveland businessman Mark Smith, a significant donor to the athletic programs.

Smith, echoing sentiments of many fans, pointed to former football coach Phillip Fulmer as a potential replacement.

"A lot of people I've talked to - a lot of people - would love to see him come back and run the athletic department," Smith said.

Cheek declined to talk about Fulmer or any other potential candidates and said he does not yet have a list of prospects for the vacancy.

Joe Weller, former president of Nestle USA who returned to East Tennessee in his retirement to be close to his family and the university, also wants someone with Tennessee connections in the top office.

"I think Tennessee is a pretty tight-knit family, and the fan base is pretty tight," he said, "and it's difficult for an outsider in terms of understanding how important sports are to fans here."

Megan Boehnke can be reached at 86-342-6432.

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Comments » 24

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

Will donors give big now that Hamilton is out???

FWBVol writes:

I believe there are enough Tennessee men and women out there with all the credentials needed to run the UTAD where the school shouldn't have to go with someone that doesn't have UT ties.

Charles Davis, Tim Priest, Tim Irwin, Ernie Grunfeld, Phillip Fulmer and several others could step up to the plate for UT as could Congressman Heath Shuler.

Shuler has been a successful business, and, as a politician, he knows all about raising money and uniting people.

thetrollhunter writes:

I saw how in his resignation speech he called Jimmy Cheek "Cheap, errr Cheek"
Freudian slip?

UofTNVol writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I believe there are enough Tennessee men and women out there with all the credentials needed to run the UTAD where the school shouldn't have to go with someone that doesn't have UT ties.

Charles Davis, Tim Priest, Tim Irwin, Ernie Grunfeld, Phillip Fulmer and several others could step up to the plate for UT as could Congressman Heath Shuler.

Shuler has been a successful business, and, as a politician, he knows all about raising money and uniting people.

Really? Shuler? Good lawd. Please let Ernie Grunfeld take this job. If he doesn't we are screwed because our fan base is retarded.

not_guilty writes:

in response to thetrollhunter:

I saw how in his resignation speech he called Jimmy Cheek "Cheap, errr Cheek"
Freudian slip?

Nothing about Hamilton's going away is cheap, what with $1.3 million to buy his silence.

LJS1984 writes:

I will probably buy football season tickets now that they have stopped the embarrassment. Finally, somebody showed some sense in Knoxville. I'M BACK!

murrayvol writes:

I never left.

shipperman#280095 writes:

Philip Fulmer would be an extremely poor choice if you want to repair the fractured fan base. You still have a LOT of Johhny Majors' fans out there. And if not for good old Johnny, Phil never would have had a job in the first place

Chartervol writes:

Shuler is dumb as a hardwood floor.

TommyJack writes:

Do not use the words "Fulmer"and "unify" in the same article.

WKC writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

Philip Fulmer would be an extremely poor choice if you want to repair the fractured fan base. You still have a LOT of Johhny Majors' fans out there. And if not for good old Johnny, Phil never would have had a job in the first place

Coach Majors burned way too many bridges, with fans, the university and with the big money.

Outdated writes:

THE most important thing to me for the new AD is that he have TN ties..NO way to unite the fans w/o doing this..I still resent the fact Doug Dickey was hired as AD after deserting TN and coaching Florida..I am not a donor ..just a radical redneck fan who believes in rewarding a TN connection and not being stupid enough to think you have to do a nationwide search for a job that is mostly public relations..

FWBVol writes:

in response to bigorangegoon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Actually Washington is not Grunfeld's hometown. He previously worked in what would be considered in naturalized hometown of New York City when he was with the Knicks. Grunfeld was born in Romania and his family immigrated to the USA when he was a child.

Maybe he is making too much money, but then again, maybe he's at a place in his career where he's financially secure and would be willing to take a substantial pay cut to come back to UT. My biggest question about Grunfeld is whether he ever graduated. To the best of my knowledge he might not have a degree although he did play four years for the Vols.

VOLSGURLINCHARLOTTE writes:

in response to LJS1984:

I will probably buy football season tickets now that they have stopped the embarrassment. Finally, somebody showed some sense in Knoxville. I'M BACK!

The fact that you ever "left" and stopped supporting UT just shows you are not a real fan in the first place. If you truly loved the Vols you would stick by them in every situation. So, we don't need you back.

rivieravol writes:

Sounds like Mark Smith must have done some business deals with Flummo or Fulmer gave his son a scholarship.

Roadie writes:

I don't care who is the next Tennessee AD as long as He or She has Deep Tennessee roots... If That does not happen I think Mr. Cheek should be the next to go... Matter of fact he should go right now , He's a drag on our system... The Fish Stinks from the Head Down!!!! Mike Hamilton has always been a puppet to Dickey,Cheek and Haslam... UT Get your head out of the sand and smell the Roses!!! It's time to clean this house once and for all...

tornado writes:

1.3 million dollars for a voluntary retirement is nearly unbelievable---WAIT, it is unbelievable. Another in a long series of costly actions. 11.5 million dollars and poor performance in three of our top sports offsets a heap of fundraising. Maybe we should offer a buyout to the NCAA. We certainly seem to have a bottomless pit for buyout money.

At least we have cleaned the slate in a critical area. Hopefully our Chancellor can make a decent hire, although there is nothing in his background to suggest this will happen.

vol73 writes:

What about Bill Battle? He was a good, if not excellent coach, a great success at business, and a quality human being.

murrayvol writes:

in response to vol73:

What about Bill Battle? He was a good, if not excellent coach, a great success at business, and a quality human being.

Can't afford him. Plus he's 87 years old.

vol73 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Can't afford him. Plus he's 87 years old.

Nope, he got the job in 1970 when he was 27, which makes him about 68 now. I just saw him a few days ago and he looks terrific. Just ask some of the guys that played for him what they think. They will all tell you how good he was and he certainly succeeded in business. Just what we need!

trubleoj#657755 writes:

I have been waiting for this day since Hamilton sold the season ticket holders names for magazine sales (TV Guide, really?)
I do not have a requirement for an AD with Tennessee provenance.
The AD should be competent with good management skills. Like most businesses an Athletic Dept. consists of 3 parts: Sales, Factory and Customer Service. No one doubts Hamilton showed good sales figures but he made bad decisions on hires (perhaps he did not set proper metrics for coaches or supply them the tools they needed to succeed) to run his factories (especially the main product lines) and the effect was customer service suffered. I feel he ignored the majority of the customer base and only reacted to his "Premiers" (Haslam, Pratt, Cates, et al). As with any business while they may be the bulk of your revenue the retail portion tends to drive the business. He demonstrated the business model failure of focusing (kissing butt) on the largest customers while allowing the product errors to accumulate. Eventually mismanagement of 2/3rds of the business will result in a (needed) change.
All I require of the new UT Men's AD is the experience and demonstration of the above.
I can readily supply candidates if needed.

XX3Row7

jeff1vol writes:

First thing to do is get RID of all the F-ing Gators trying to undermine our athletic Programs. Are you listening, Cheek, Dipietro???

Pompey writes:

in response to bspurlingcac#225603:

Will donors give big now that Hamilton is out???

.....BULLETIN! Donors were not giving to Hamilton, they were giving to UT...winning is the best fund raiser of all!

snowvol writes:

From the article: Joe Weller, former president of Nestle USA who returned to East Tennessee in his retirement to be close to his family and the university, also wants someone with Tennessee connections in the top office.

"I think Tennessee is a pretty tight-knit family, and the fan base is pretty tight," he said, "and it's difficult for an outsider in terms of understanding how important sports are to fans here."

That's the kind of thinking we don't need. The level of ignorance and xenophobia with statements like that are unbelievable. Please don't tell me that no one outside the state of Tennessee is qualified to run Tennessee Athletics. That's just utter nonsense.

Find the best person possible for the job. Someone with proven leadership ability, someone with vision, someone who hungers to win big across the board in every sport, someone able to raise money and rally the fan base... if that person is from Tennessee, go get him. Now. And if he's not..... go get him. Now.

With all due respect to Phillip Fulmer, this university's undying loyalty to him had a hand in the football program dropping to a level far from acceptable on the Hill. A native son, a player, an assistant coach and then the head coach - his tenure as a Tennessee man leading Tennessee was a good thing for many years but as Steve Spurrier once said, "these days, about 12 years or so is long enough for a coach to be associated with a university." Having a native son at any university is a double-edged sword. You want him to be successful but when he's not, or not as acceptable as he use to be, it's harder to cut ties.

I hope this alleged national search is... national. We might discover there are some outstanding people out there well-qualified to take this athletic department to another level.

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