John Adams: Getting a read on Mike Hamilton's legacy not easy

John Adams
Mike Hamilton, former University of Tennessee athletic director.

Mike Hamilton, former University of Tennessee athletic director.

When Mike Hamilton “resigned” as Tennessee’s athletic director three weeks ago, he said it was too soon to talk about his legacy.

“In the end, it will be up to the media to talk about my legacy,” he said. “Not now, not next week, but down the road.”

Three weeks down the road is far enough for me, especially since his resignation becomes effective in just two more days. Then, he really goes on UT’s payroll, thanks to a $1.3 million payoff he will receive for resigning.

The financially fond farewell — like all the bountiful buyouts negotiated during Hamilton’s generous tenure as athletic director — will be part of his legacy. The payoffs to fired coaches were so substantial, fans were left wondering if he was running an athletic department or administering a lottery.

Time could soften such sarcasm. In another 20 years, when our dollar has even less value, the millions doled out to failed coaches won’t seem as outrageous. By then, you also might be able to look beyond the mistakes of the last two years and better focus on Hamilton’s body of work over eight years.

It wasn’t a succession of train wrecks, any more than Jimmy Carter’s four-year presidency was one long Iran Hostage Crisis. It just seems that way now. More than 30 years later, most historians will concede that even Carter had a couple of good days in the Oval Office.

Hamilton had his moments, too. They’re just quite forgettable amidst all that has gone wrong recently. Since those mishaps have been sufficiently highlighted, a broader view might be worthwhile two days before the Hamilton era ends.

Money is a good place to start. Hamilton didn’t just make money for the coaches he fired. He also kept UT’s athletic department in the black — no small feat, the majority of college athletic directors would tell you.

That’s more noteworthy than the improvement of athletic department facilities, as obvious as they might be.

What SEC school’s facilities haven’t improved over the last eight years? Bigger, better athletic facilities are popping up wherever you look on the college landscape, not just in a conference with a long-term television deal as lucrative as the SEC’s. An athletic director can take only so much credit for that.

As much as Hamilton was lauded for fund-raising, you might wonder if his efforts were misplaced. Since UT’s big boosters are so willing to give and Hamilton was so willing to receive, why didn’t the Vols throw money at the best coaches in the country?

Alabama is paying football coach Nick Saban about $6 million a year, and he’s still a bargain. Kentucky just upped basketball coach John Calipari’s salary to more than $4 million a year. Money doesn’t guarantee success, but it improves your percentages. Hamilton spent less and gambled more.

Most of his hired hands at least proved they could coach. Bruce Pearl’s record speaks for itself in basketball. The 2009 football team over-achieved in Lane Kiffin’s one season at UT. Last year, Derek Dooley won six regular-season games with the least talented team in recent school history.

Hamilton’s firings, though sometimes clumsily handled, were better than his hires. He was justified in firing coaches Phillip Fulmer (football), Buzz Peterson (basketball) and Rod Delmonico (baseball).

You might argue that Fulmer should have been fired after losing six games in 2005 with a team full of future NFL players. The program was clearly in decline by then. But you can’t fault Hamilton, who had been in his position for fewer than three years and hardly had the power base to remove a coach of Fulmer’s stature.

Firing Fulmer wasn’t Hamilton’s best move. Hiring Pearl was. The unhappy ending doesn’t change that.

Suppose you were told six years ago the Vols would hire a basketball coach who would lead them to six consecutive NCAA tournaments before being fired for NCAA violations. Anyone with an appreciation for UT’s up-and-down basketball history would have jumped at the proposal.

The Fulmer firing and Pearl hiring are part of Hamilton’s legacy now. So are the well documented errors in judgment that led to his resignation.

Time can improve one’s legacy. But it can’t turn Jimmy Carter into Abe Lincoln.

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 » 36

Wauconda_Vol writes:

Good man. Bad AD.

SummittsCourt writes:

4 words - money driven, sports idiot

dvhill100 writes:

Mike Hamilton is a perfect example of the Peter Principle - A person is promoted to their highest level of incompetence.

VolMoment writes:

John Adams performance as a so called sports journalist is so below Mike Hamilton performance it is not even funny. When John is gone everybody will say good riddence to a LSU man that has the small man syndrome. There will be no legacy to write about him.

Singaporehillbilly writes:

I am glad he is gone.

M_VOL writes:

According the Witch Doctor, the bones never lie. I get it. Still, what would happen if one time they did? Then what?!?!?!?!?! What would we do?

murrayvol writes:

in response to M_VOL:

According the Witch Doctor, the bones never lie. I get it. Still, what would happen if one time they did? Then what?!?!?!?!?! What would we do?

It would be terrible.....perhaps worse.

murrayvol writes:

in response to VolMoment:

John Adams performance as a so called sports journalist is so below Mike Hamilton performance it is not even funny. When John is gone everybody will say good riddence to a LSU man that has the small man syndrome. There will be no legacy to write about him.

John Adams will retire from KNS and will likely have a bronze statue (slightly larger than Saban's) to commemeorate his service.

murrayvol writes:

Sorry. "commemorate"

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Bigger question is what will Adams' legacy be?

In one paragraph he says MH was justified in firing Fulmer. Then, in an encore paragraph, he says firing Fulmer wasn't Hamilton's best move.
.
Somehow, John's columns just don't have a Siler/West resemblance.

UTKin1992 writes:

in response to dvhill100:

Mike Hamilton is a perfect example of the Peter Principle - A person is promoted to their highest level of incompetence.

His legacy EXACTLY!

VolzsFan writes:

Hammy inherited the most successful football and baseball coaches and both are very high ranking in SEC history. Firing them was the beginning of the end. Adams knows this yet because he had a knee jerk reaction and called for their firings will never admit that he and Hamilton could not have been more wrong. Than he decided to KEEP Buzz and when the money man was notified HE fired Buzz. The money man asked Grunfeld to find a coach and it was Pearl. Hamilton did not manage Pearl. In the end, virtually every decision that Hamilton made was absolutely horrible. Actually, as time goes on, history will show that he had the schools most successful football, basketball and baseball coaches on campus at one time under his watch. He back stabbed, with held resources and tried to hinder them (except Pearl). He fired all 3. Never in any schools history will they say they had the best at those 3 sports at the same time and fired them all. This catastrophe was predicted by me when he ignorantly fired Rod. History will continue to show that as the success each of them had will NEVER be duplicated at UT ever again.

Hey Buckwheat Adams, think Phil will invite to his first ballot Hall of Fame induction next year?

vut56#231073 writes:

Hamilton's gone; almost end of story. Those who wished him out are happy and those who did not...well, he is still gone. A little perspective: Few Vol fans could name any other athletic directors in the SEC; few at other schools ever heard of Hamilton, notwithstanding how much "we" have. Almost no one outside the SEC could name a single athletic director in the SEC. So, this entire subject is low fruit.

After one hundred fifty years, Lincoln's "legacy" is still being revisited; Jimmy Carter's will probably be revised one hundred fifty years from now.

I doubt Mr. Adams quick review will be the definitive work; the bigger question is: who cares?

born2ride writes:

Hamilton will be remembered for his coaching mistakes.

VolMoment writes:

in response to murrayvol:

John Adams will retire from KNS and will likely have a bronze statue (slightly larger than Saban's) to commemeorate his service.

How much did John pay you to log this bull.

MusicCityVol writes:

Part of Hamilton's legacy will be backing out on the UNC series and a chance to avenge the Music City Bowl debacle. Instead we have Buffalo to look forward to.

2011 Schedule Breakdown - Buffalo
http://www.checkerboardchatter.com/20...

coymoore#531076 writes:

Heath Shuler For AD!!

hcjournals#206623 writes:

One of Hamilton's big mistakes was in thinking he was more important than the alumni and fans who pay for all of this. He seemed to be smug and hid behind the physical improvements to the athletic facilities. He raised money....So did every other AD. He came in and fired the only coach who brought us a national championship in football. Like Fulmer or not, he is one of us, and Hamilton treated him badly. He thought that paying off coach Fulmer somehow justified it. He came from Clemson, whose football tradition consists of a tie for the national championship and a rock the players touch before every game. He was a weasel. He thought we were idiots. He sucked up to the right people and betrayed our basketball coach one day before the NCAA tournament. Now we need a new AD. I've been told by a 30 plus year columnist that Fulmer isn't qualified. Well, they say Ronald Reagan wasn't qualified to be president. He surrounded himself with good people and now he is regarded as the best president in decades.....With Fulmer you will have an ambassador. With a big ring. We need an ambassador. He is a decent person. He will raise millions. He is dyed in the wool orange. He is not a jackwagon. He will bring stability. We need stability. He's not perfect. Or flashy. Neither are most of us. Except for those of you who will reply to this blog who don't want him. Let's hear a better recommendation. It's not often we get to have one of our own become AD. We could do much worse. And as God is my witness, if we hire a fool, I will personally start researching everybody who is on the board of trustees and put them under the magnifying glass. Tired of this nonsense. We are really lucky to have the rich tradition we have. It's time to protect it. Thanks for coming out. We're here all week....

VOLinATL writes:

in response to M_VOL:

According the Witch Doctor, the bones never lie. I get it. Still, what would happen if one time they did? Then what?!?!?!?!?! What would we do?

Sheesh...what a one-note loser!

Brac_Jack writes:

Comparing Hamilton to Jimmy Carter says it all. Nuf' said!

dk writes:

in response to hcjournals#206623:

One of Hamilton's big mistakes was in thinking he was more important than the alumni and fans who pay for all of this. He seemed to be smug and hid behind the physical improvements to the athletic facilities. He raised money....So did every other AD. He came in and fired the only coach who brought us a national championship in football. Like Fulmer or not, he is one of us, and Hamilton treated him badly. He thought that paying off coach Fulmer somehow justified it. He came from Clemson, whose football tradition consists of a tie for the national championship and a rock the players touch before every game. He was a weasel. He thought we were idiots. He sucked up to the right people and betrayed our basketball coach one day before the NCAA tournament. Now we need a new AD. I've been told by a 30 plus year columnist that Fulmer isn't qualified. Well, they say Ronald Reagan wasn't qualified to be president. He surrounded himself with good people and now he is regarded as the best president in decades.....With Fulmer you will have an ambassador. With a big ring. We need an ambassador. He is a decent person. He will raise millions. He is dyed in the wool orange. He is not a jackwagon. He will bring stability. We need stability. He's not perfect. Or flashy. Neither are most of us. Except for those of you who will reply to this blog who don't want him. Let's hear a better recommendation. It's not often we get to have one of our own become AD. We could do much worse. And as God is my witness, if we hire a fool, I will personally start researching everybody who is on the board of trustees and put them under the magnifying glass. Tired of this nonsense. We are really lucky to have the rich tradition we have. It's time to protect it. Thanks for coming out. We're here all week....

Hamilton didn't treat Fulmer as badly as Fulmer treated Coach Majors when he had his heart attack. Fulmer never should have been hired as HC anyway. I don't care if he does love Tennessee and played there, coached there, and still lives close to there.

Fulmer was not HC material. Good position coach, decent recruiter, but not a good HC. How many job offers did he get after being fired at Tennessee? How many HC offers did any of his assistants get? How many of Fulmer assistants are now head coaches? All great coaches have successful assistants who have gone on to become great head coaches. Name one of Phil's?

hcjournals#206623 writes:

First of all, Walt, you are wrong. Reagan's presidency has stood the test of time. Sorry, Clinton boy. Dk, expand your name. That says it all.........Ok just kidding. Not in the mood to be mean....Hehehehehehehehee. I love it when people actually get animated over Coach Fulmer. And AD really can be an ambassador. We need that. Make sure he has Condredge and the rest of the orange army behind him and he will be fine. He's fat? So are you. My scale says "step off" on it. Then I put all my weight on it. That will teach it to talk back. We may be overweight but we are still extremely good looking. Remember that....

Bigger_Al writes:

Lovie Smith, Doug Marrone, David Cutcliffe. Ace recruiters Rodney Garner and Trooper Taylor. Ace DC John Chavis.

Volunatic writes:

in response to dk:

Hamilton didn't treat Fulmer as badly as Fulmer treated Coach Majors when he had his heart attack. Fulmer never should have been hired as HC anyway. I don't care if he does love Tennessee and played there, coached there, and still lives close to there.

Fulmer was not HC material. Good position coach, decent recruiter, but not a good HC. How many job offers did he get after being fired at Tennessee? How many HC offers did any of his assistants get? How many of Fulmer assistants are now head coaches? All great coaches have successful assistants who have gone on to become great head coaches. Name one of Phil's?

That was really mean-spirited for Fulmer to win those games over Georgia, Florida, and LSU while Johnny Majors was recovering in the hospital.
That made Majors look really bad when he got back on the sidlines to lead the Vols to losses to bama, SCar, and Arkansas that same season.

arkyvol writes:

that adams thinks there is any question as to how hamilton's reign of error will be remembered says more about his incompetence as a journalist that it says about hamilton's ineptness as an a.d.

Bigger_Al writes:

in response to Volunatic:

That was really mean-spirited for Fulmer to win those games over Georgia, Florida, and LSU while Johnny Majors was recovering in the hospital.
That made Majors look really bad when he got back on the sidlines to lead the Vols to losses to bama, SCar, and Arkansas that same season.

Great point. Fulmer should have went ahead and lost as an underdog to Boston College as well in the bowl game. And to go on and win a National Championship for the Vols was the coup de grace of disrespect.

NashvillePreds writes:

1.) Replace Abe Lincoln with Andrew Jackson (This is Tennessee)

2.) ZERO men's national championships in 8 years under Hambone. IMO, that is Hamilton's legacy.

tovolny writes:

WELL NOW, looks like it is time for JOHN ADAMS to go somewhere else. From the comments and my own opinion, IT IS TIME. Most readers do not respect what he has to say. He cuts UT (sports or administration) every chance he gets. He thinks the UT fans are so dumb that we can't see that he is cutting us as long as he uses the guise of comedy. Or, I should say the guise of attemped comedy. That Lincoln/Carter comment is old as jell. Nerds that do not like sports, UT, or the City in which they reside, might appreciate his work. BUT, KNS, surely you can tell by now that we do not like the JOHN ADAMS guy. Please send him someplace where it is HOT, HUMID, infested with GATORS & SNAKES, and under the threat of being flooded due to the lack of proper Civil Engineering. OR, even worse, send him to Louisiana.

Colliervol writes:

I see the revisionists are at work again today. Obviously their memories do not go back more than 2 or 3 years or they are having early onset of Alzheimers. I can recall that we haven't won an SEC title in football since 1998. I can also recall the debacle in 2005 and what started our descent. All that is completely on the "winningest coach we ever had" whether you want to conveniently forget it or not. There is no question that Hamilton had to fire Fulmer and there really was no good way to do it. (Have you ever seen a decent firing? I haven't and I've had to fire more than one employee in my life. It ain't pretty and there is never a good time.)

Philosophical question. If Hamilton was the "worst AD in history" and it "so easy to raise money", how is it that the vast majority of colleges and AD's can't seem to do it and keep their programs in the black? And how is it that Mike raised more money and presided over more physical improvements than any AD we've ever had? Guess he was just lucky, huh? Well, he accomplished that feat in the last several years when the economy is as bad as we've seen in many years and giving is down all over to colleges, charities or anything else you want to discuss. But he got it done and that is a big accomplishment. But again, some of you would never give him credit, probably because you don't understand finance past trying to balance your checkbook.

Overall though, it was time for Mike and UT to move in other directions. No question he made a couple of hiring mistakes but I don't fault him for his firings at all. I thank Mike for being a decent human being and for his accomplishments at UT (and they were many despite what some of you clowns think). All things come to an end eventually and it's time to move on. And Mike is moving on to things that he wants to do and I'm glad for him.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to M_VOL:

According the Witch Doctor, the bones never lie. I get it. Still, what would happen if one time they did? Then what?!?!?!?!?! What would we do?

People don't wonder about your question nearly as much as they do about why you are on here. All you've brought so far is endless pointless carping about one of the more original and entertaining posters on this board.

NashvillePreds writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Blah.
Reagan took office in a time of stagflation, and crisis, in terms of our national confidence. I am not saying the man was a deity, but he was the man whom won the war.
His basic economic understanding that the free market, unhinged from the binds of government bureaucracy, would be the force to drive the Soviets into the ground was paramount.
As far as our current recession, I would argue the goverment sponsored entities, i.e. Freddie, Fannie, and Ginnie, are largely to blame. As you know, these groups received the marching orders from Bill Clinton. Only now are we realizing that indeed, not every American is ready for home ownership.

"Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" - R. Reagan

GO VOLS

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

As bad as i have always disliked Hamilton,his legacey will be alot better than johnboyadams

VolzsFan writes:

I can see where Adams and some of the dolts still think it was a good idea to fire the winningest coaches in school history in baseball, football and basketball. I mean all that winning and all.

VolinVirginia writes:

Please, could we please have a Fulmer-free discussion? Let's concentrate on the University, and the search for an Athletic Director to get us to the next level.

ncvol17 writes:

There are a few constants in every blog:
- Fulmer is blamed & Hated
- Adams is blamed & Hated
- Hamilton is referred to as a 'good man' but bad AD
----------------------------------------------
I agree with #3

BSweet writes:

Hamilton's legacy. The facilities have greatly improved. The football program has greatly diminished. Basketball greatly improved only to fall down further than it was before. Baseball is in the tank. To summarize, we have pretty buildings, but the product is subpar. Hamilton's legacy? No matter how "great" a man he might be(and I'm not saying he isn't, I just don't know him personally), he failed at his job. IMO, the most important facet of any AD's job is success, something we are currently lacking. Hopefully the next AD can improve the product to match the packaging.

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