KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – For months, David Blackburn spoke off the record about his hope of potentially becoming the next athletic director at Tennessee.
He was careful to say that while it would be a dream job, he didn’t want to covet it and he didn’t want to alienate his current bosses at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Blackburn has gone from hopeful a few months ago to thinking he had no chance to now going public with his desire to return to his alma mater.
“If asked to be a part of this process officially in terms of an interview, I would love to and it would mean the world to me to be able to lead the institution that led me,” Blackburn said Friday on WNML radio in Knoxville. “… But I do want to circle back and let everybody know how great UTC has been to me.”
A key word Blackburn used is “officially.” While no official interviews for the UT AD job have occurred yet, it would be naïve to think Blackburn hasn’t talked to some of the decision-makers.
Blackburn has even talked to fellow candidate Phillip Fulmer, multiple times.
“Coach and I have talked a lot, really, in the fall,” said Blackburn, who worked many years in Tennessee’s athletic department when Fulmer was UT’s football coach. “We’ve not talked much of late.”
Presumably, they haven’t talked much of late because it became apparent Fulmer wanted the AD job. In December, many thought Fulmer didn’t want the job or couldn’t get the job. But that changed in January.
Many thought Fulmer would be agreeable to work for Blackburn in a capacity to help football and fund-raise. But sources have told me Fulmer, 66, wants Blackburn to work for him. Blackburn, 52, has not expressed a desire to do so.
Regarding Fulmer, Blackburn said Friday that, “I think highly of him and hopefully he does me, and I think he does. … We worked together there for so long. I’m very thankful to have had my time with Coach.”
How UT’s search firm and search committee and boosters and new Chancellor Beverly Davenport view Blackburn vs. Fulmer is unknown. But one thing is clear: Most favor hiring a UT guy.
Why is that important?
“Most every school has an identity in whatever region of the country you are,” Blackburn said. “Certainly Tennessee is one of those, very much like Alabama, frankly. They love to have their own. That doesn’t mean that all the coaches have to be from there. …. But they certainly want to have history preserved. And they want to know that the people who are there care about all of those before them that have built it to where it is.
“It’s a moment in time to have that happen. I think it brings cohesion among the campus, among administration in athletics, among the faculty, students and certainly the city and the state. And I think it’s a great moment in time.”
At this moment in time, UTC is a power in the Southern Conference, having won the football and men’s and women’s basketball titles in the same year – a league first.
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