Mike Strange: UT fans can now direct their passion toward the court

Mike Strange

Roughly a year has passed since the last time Tennessee played Auburn in basketball. You'll need a new scorecard to keep up with the changes, on and off the court.

What got me to thinking back to the 2010-11 Tennessee season was Mike Hamilton's Q&A session this week with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This time a year ago, Hamilton was UT's men's athletic director. His eight-year run as AD ended last June, just as UT went before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

This came some two months after he fired Bruce Pearl, who needs no introduction.

Hamilton revealed in his Chattanooga interview that he received threats after UT fired the popular Pearl last March. UT fans were inflamed by not only the decision but the clumsy manner in which it was executed.

It got so bad Hamilton had to move his wife and five children out of Knoxville for several days and was assigned police protection for himself.

That passions run hot when it comes to sports is not breaking news. Sometimes, however, they run amok.

Threats, usually anonymous, get made. Occasionally, lunatics do more than talk. They poison trees or slash tires.

But this time a year ago, we didn't see any of that ugliness coming. In fact, this week in 2011 was actually an oasis of optimism in a season that had veered off the tracks.

Pearl was back into his eight-game SEC suspension, having recently resurfaced for a loss at Connecticut.

Associate head coach Tony Jones was riding a four-game SEC winning streak as Pearl's game-day stand-in. It became a five-game win streak when the Vols went to Auburn and won 69-56 despite the absence of injured Scotty Hopson.

Speaking to the Big Orange Tipoff Club, Pearl effusively praised his staff, Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay, for picking up the ball in his absence.

The good vibe, of course, didn't last. And neither did so many of the featured players.

Within two months, the UT administration had abandoned its support of Pearl and fired him. Hamilton — and his family — absorbed the wrath of an angry fan base and then Hamilton, too, was gone.

Gone from athletics entirely. These days, he's in Nashville serving as the U.S. Operations Officer for Blood:Water Mission, a nonprofit agency seeking to bring clean water and HIV/AIDS relief to Africa.

The team's best players, Tobias Harris and Hopson, could have returned but are hooping in Milwaukee and Greece, respectively.

Forbes landed at a top-flight junior-college program in Florida and hired Shay. Jones stuck around and is enjoying a banner season coaching at Alcoa High School.

Then there's the new cast, whose lives would be changed by UT's turmoil.

A year ago this week Cuonzo Martin was 17-4 at Missouri State and drilling his team to face Northern Iowa.

Jarnell Stokes was a junior at Memphis Central High School and had no clue he'd be playing for any college a year later, much less Tennessee. As for the rest of what would become Martin's first recruiting class, Tennessee wasn't on their radar.

Dave Hart, I'd wager, was planning on finishing his administrative career at Alabama, his alma mater. Instead, he was selected to replace Hamilton and is directing an era of dramatic change at UT.

Hamilton, meanwhile, dropped by Tuesday to say hello when the Vols held their afternoon shoot-around at Vanderbilt.

"I didn't stay for the game," he said in his interview, "because I didn't feel like that was my place right now."

In the past year so many people have changed places because of Tennessee basketball.

As the new-look Vols take on Auburn today, the focus is back on the game. Passions can run hot without running amok.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 4

Bigger_Al writes:

Hamilton dropped by to tell the media that he received threats. KNS will run the negative headline through signing day. (The Chattanooga headline was "Ex-UT AD Hamilton says former coach Lane Kiffin was 'right person for the job at that time'".)

vut5686#1405392 writes:

Normally do not diss Strange but this article is a stretch. Half quotes the Chattanooga article, which was published in the KNS previously. Other half is just rehashing old news...which has been rehashed ad nauseum.
Sort of weak.

johnlg00 writes:

If Hamilton's allegations are true, some so-called Vol fans should be ashamed. True, Hamilton was a lightning-rod during most of his tenure, but as we have seen on too many occasions, fandom veers all too readily into madness for some. There is NO justification for threats of violence over ANYTHING to do with sports.

tennrich1 writes:

If you are one of those who made a threat or even entertained the idea, YOU SHOULD SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP!!! Seriously....not a causally statement....those types of folks usually ruin other folks lives....

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