Mike Hamilton’s impact at Tennessee is clear to his former counterpart in the women’s athletic department.
At least for now, that’s where Joan Cronan is going to keep the focus in the aftermath of Hamilton’s resignation.
Whether the change at the top of the men’s department might prompt UT to realign the structure with the women and perhaps have Cronan lead both sides with her 26 years of experience as an athletic director is up for debate. But Cronan declined to address that possibility or any potential shifts in her role on Wednesday night, electing instead to look back at the positives she witnessed up close from Hamilton during the eight years building up to Tuesday’s decision to step down at UT.
“I think the future of how we proceed and the structure is in the hands of the chancellor (Jimmy Cheek) at this stage, so I really don’t have a comment on that,” Cronan said. “I consider Mike a friend, I consider him a colleague and if I could say two things about Mike — he’s a man of integrity and if you don’t believe he’s made a difference in the athletic program, you’ve got your eyes closed. All you have to do is take a walk around our campus and look at the improvements that have happened over the last five years for every sport.
“It’s obviously been a tough year, and I think my hope had been that we could ride this storm out. I think he decided that the lightning rod wouldn’t go away, and I respect his decision. I think the university lost a good person, and I think athletics lost a good person.”
Speculation about the search for his replacement started generating plenty of names from both inside and outside the program even before the separation arrangement of $1.335 million was officially announced, though Hamilton is not yet technically done with his duties as he heads up a delegation from UT going to Indianapolis for a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Saturday.
It’s those NCAA storm clouds that ultimately seemed to signal the end of Hamilton’s run with the Vols, and Cronan admitted the fallout hasn’t been limited strictly to the football and men’s basketball teams under investigation over the last couple years. The timing of the decision may have caught Cronan somewhat by surprise since she was out of town preparing to speak to a group of bankers when she got an early call from Hamilton on Tuesday morning, but she made clear she understood and respected his reasons for making it.
“In the athletic world today, we’ve always lived in fishbowl, but our fishbowl has just gotten bigger,” she said. “The competition is there, the race for facilities, the opportunity to hire great coaches, all of that is always there. Then you take this NCAA investigation, and it’s been a black cloud over all of us. It has affected men’s and women’s athletics, and people are looking at what-ifs, what could happen here. The pressure is extreme.
“The timing, there’s never a good time. But in this case, Mike was thinking about the university and the timing as we move forward.”
After eight years working side-by-side with Hamilton, the next steps for Cronan and UT will be without him.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward