Did you hear about the hotshot former athletic director who has purchased land in East Tennessee?
Of course you didn’t. Administrators don’t spark rumors like coaches.
So just because there has been speculation about the job security of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, the administrative equivalent of a Jon Gruden isn’t suddenly a topic for conversation on local talk shows. Actually, there is no administrative equivalent of Gruden, whose alleged real estate pursuits became talk-show fodder when former UT coach Phillip Fulmer’s job was first in jeopardy.
Quick, name five top athletic directors at mid-major programs. OK, name one.
See what I mean?
Even if you did know one, do you think the very mention of his name would prompt your most affluent booster to declare: “We’ve got to get him, whatever it takes”?
Boosters don’t even say that about Florida’s Jeremy Foley. They’re just as likely to know the name of Boise State’s equipment manager as its athletic director. But the same boosters are apt to become giddy at the possibility of landing the latest coach of a non-BCS team to take a chunk out of the powers that be.
Casual fans aren’t much different. If they’re ready for a coaching change, they can easily tick off the names of worthy replacements. You might as well ask them to list their top five candidates for U.S. surgeon general as to list five top prospects for athletic director.
That lack of awareness helps explain why I get so many emails and calls, saying: “Fire Hamilton and hire Fulmer.”
So what if Fulmer has never been an athletic director or even served in UT’s army of associate athletic directors? And never mind if he has dabbled in duck hunting as much as business. At least fans know him.
They know him as a “Tennessee guy,” a former UT football player and coach. They also know him as the coach who led UT to an unbeaten season and national championship in 1998.
I first heard the Fulmer-for-AD speculation less than a year after Hamilton had fired him as football coach in 2008. I responded with a snicker, which gave way to laughter and a coughing spell.
But so much has changed since that snicker. Football coach Lane Kiffin, Hamilton’s hire, left for Southern California after a year. Basketball coach Bruce Pearl, Hamilton’s best hire, was fired for his involvement in major NCAA violations.
Baseball coach Todd Raleigh, another Hamilton hire, has taken the program from decline to free-fall.
UT’s athletic director has changed his mind as often as he has changed coaches. He gave Fulmer a pay raise and contract extension before firing him. He staunchly supported Pearl in September, then questioned his job status during a radio interview just before the team entered the NCAA tournament.
Hamilton gets credit for fundraising and keeping UT’s athletic department in the black. But that’s as much of a tribute to UT’s passionate and generous donors, who might as well have forked over millions to Bernie Madoff for the return they have gotten on their investment this school year.
You think Fulmer couldn’t raise money on UT’s behalf? He probably could get $100,000 by just flashing his national championship ring.
A possible counterpoint at this juncture: Football coaches no longer are qualified for a job as demanding as an athletic director’s.
The job is so demanding, Vanderbilt doesn’t even have an athletic director. The job is so demanding, UT football coach Derek Dooley did it in his spare time while coaching Louisiana Tech’s football team.
Granted, UT’s athletic department is a much bigger operation than Vandy’s or Louisiana Tech’s. But with the help of the department’s 800 or so associate and assistant athletic directors, a former major-college football coach probably could get by.
If the possibility still sounds too outlandish, check the property records. I’ve heard that Fulmer already owns land in East Tennessee.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.