Tennessee’s search for an athletic director won’t be nearly as challenging as when Dave Hart was hired by the school in 2011.
Hart and Tennessee both had to take a leap of faith. Hart agreed to lead a school with financial woes and subpar athletics, namely football. Tennessee was forced to hire an administrator who had a checkered past at Florida State and couldn’t secure an athletic director position upon his departure. Instead, he was an assistant athletic director at Alabama, which just happens to be one of the Vols’ most hated rivals. That never set well with some fans.
Let the debate rage on concerning Hart’s success, or lack thereof, while at Tennessee after his announcement Thursday that he is retiring next summer. But there’s no debating that the two parties were just desperate enough to need each other when Hart was hired.
This time around should be much different. The Vols are much better in football – which is always key – and much better financially. Here are some names to keep an eye on the Vols look for their next athletic director.
This seems like a slam-dunk hire. Blackburn held various roles at Tennessee, including associate athletic director and director of football operations. He left Tennessee to become the athletic director at UT-Chattanooga. The Mocs have been on fire ever since.
Information provided by UTC shows that the Mocs became the first school in the 100-plus year history of the Southern Conference to win football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball championships in the same year (the 2015-16 season). UTC also won titles in volleyball and wrestling while leading the Southern Conference in attendance in football and men’s and women’s basketball for the second year in a row. One of the strongest criticisms of Hart was that he didn’t produce strong non-revenue sports.
(Editor’s note: Currie was added as a potential candidate after the story originally was published.) Currie, who is the athletic director at Kansas State, is a superstar fundraiser. He also has led an athletic program to championship success, as K-State won or shared Big 12 championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball in the 2012–13 academic year. He was honored as one of four 2013 Under Armour Athletic Directors of the Year by the National Association of Directors of Athletics.
Currie is a former executive associate athletic director at Tennessee, where he received his masters degree. Currie also was instrumental in hiring football coach Lane Kiffin and basketball coach Bruce Pearl. While neither hire ended particularly well, both were considered successes before their departures.
Davis is a former Vols defensive back who was born in Elizabethton, Tenn., but lived most of his childhood in New York. Clearly, though, he’s a Vol through and through. He’s often on talk radio in Knoxville and still keeps close tabs on Tennessee, as well as close friendships with several former Vols.
Davis has a strong career in broadcasting, so it’s unclear if he’d want to walk away from that. But he recently said at a speaking function that he thinks the Vols need to hire someone with ties to Tennessee. Was that hint that he may want the job?
Davis isn’t just a talking head. He should have a working knowledge of how to run an athletic department. He was an assistant athletic director at Stanford and the director of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Fundraising likely wouldn’t be an issue as Davis is known for being engaging and likable.
Fuller currently is a senior associate athletic director at Tennessee. He has proven to be an excellent fundraiser and done, well, just about everything else. He’s handled marketing, sales, ticket operations and broadcasting duties. He may not be the most well-known candidate on this list, but he should be thought of as one of the top candidates.
If there’s one thing that may work against Fuller, it’s that he was present during some stressful times at Tennessee. Those times were under Hart’s direction, but Fuller was there. Through no fault of his own, he may not receive universal endorsement. Still, he’d be a fantastic selection.
It seems unlikely the Vols would go in this direction. First, it’s not nearly as en vogue to hire former coaches to be athletic directors as it once was. Schools are most often looking for candidates with business backgrounds in order to guarantee fundraising success.
Fulmer, though, has been involved in several business ventures both during and after his coaching career and he’s been a consultant with East Tennessee State’s athletic department. Fulmer’s interest level also would be a question. He’s seemingly enjoying retirement, so he may not have interest in the job.
Ingram surely would love to be tabbed as the next Tennessee athletic director considering he’s been charged with the task of reintroducing UAB’s football program after it was cut.
Ingram is a former Tennessee football player who was a star in fundraising and served as the school’s senior associate athletic director. He’s also worked at Georgia and Missouri, so he has a firm grasp of the SEC. But the question is if his résumé is strong enough to warrant the AD role at Tennessee.
Well, Manning does have some free time on his hands and he’d probably be successful at most anything he chose to do in this stage of his life. But if he wants to be involved in the business side of football, the NFL makes much more sense. Deals like John Elway signed with the Denver Broncos usually include part-ownership. In financial terms, that’s the gift that keeps on giving – forever.
Blackburn tops this list, which was arranged alphabetically. He also tops my list of top candidates. Blackburn is bright, affable, proven and has a personable, down-to-earth personality. Tennessee also would be a destination job that he’d be proud to hold for a long time. That would bring stability to Tennessee, which it has been lacking on many levels.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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