- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Scratch Georgia Tech’s Dan Radakovich from Tennessee’s list for a new athletic director.
Georgia Tech’s recent NCAA troubles and the NCAA’s assertion that Georgia Tech officials attempted to “manipulate the information surrounding potential violations” makes Radakovich untouchable for a school that appeared before the Committee on Infractions just last month for major violations in both football and men’s basketball.
Tennessee should find out sometime next month what sanctions it will face for violations that occurred on the watch of former athletic director Mike Hamilton, who stepped down in June.
In the meantime, Tennessee is left to pick up the pieces now that Radakovich is out.
What’s most troublesome for Tennessee supporters is that the university forked out six figures to the Parker Executive Search firm to help identify candidates, gather information … and conduct background checks.
If that’s the case, how does a guy like Radakovich emerge as the front-runner when his own shop is about to get hit with NCAA penalties?
Given what Tennessee has gone through with the NCAA over the past year or so, the first directive Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek gives to the Parker search firm is to make sure that any and all serious candidates don’t have even a trace of NCAA baggage.
Yet, until the news broke Thursday that Georgia Tech was being stripped of its 2009 ACC championship and going on NCAA probation, the feeling of many in and around the Tennessee athletic department was that Radakovich was clearly the guy to beat in the Vols’ search for a new athletic director.
Again, good thing they forked over all that money to the Parker search firm, which has collected nearly $300,000 of Tennessee’s money when you throw in the searches that led to the hiring of football coach Derek Dooley and basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.
And one more thing: Who is Cheek listening to?
Better yet, is he purposely trying to botch this one even worse than he did the Bruce Pearl situation?
Cheek openly supported Pearl after the former basketball coach admitted to lying to the NCAA and was adamant that Pearl was going to be the Vols’ coach. Cheek reiterated that support even after the SEC suspended Pearl for eight games. And then after allowing the whole thing to fester for a season and Tennessee to take a public relations bloodbath nationally, Cheek then decided it was time to pull the plug on Pearl.
Needless to say, his handling of the matter didn’t exactly inspire confidence among the Big Orange Nation.
He faces an even more important decision in this next hire, because if Tennessee football doesn’t get back to playing for and winning championships -- and doing it the right way -- Cheek might be the next one Tennessee is searching to replace.
No word yet on whether a search firm would be necessary.
As for the athletic director candidates remaining on Tennessee’s board, Tulsa’s Bubba Cunningham, Buffalo’s Warde Manuel and Cincinnati’s Mike Thomas appear to be at the top of the list.
From the day Hamilton stepped down, Cheek’s initiative was to attract an established athletic director from a bigger school, and he assured key people it would be somebody with a strong football background.
Tennessee took its shot at several so-called bigger names, but those candidates weren’t interested in making the move. It’s no secret that righting the Vols' ship is going to be a major undertaking for anybody.
Part of Tennessee’s problem in this whole search might be that it hasn’t looked closely enough within the family.
Senior associate athletic director David Blackburn is a candidate. Where he is in the pecking order at this point is anybody’s guess.
But if Cheek genuinely wants to get this one right, Blackburn ought to be at the very top.
He’s a Tennessee guy. He understands what’s important to the Tennessee people. He’s willing to fight for Tennessee, and he’s also willing to fight against those (coaches, boosters, anybody) who put Tennessee at risk.
It was Blackburn who saved Tennessee’s football program from a failure to monitor charge in the whole Lane Kiffin-NCAA mess. For that matter, Blackburn saved Tennessee football from much worse charges because of his diligence, his integrity and his willingness to stand up to people.
Simply, he’s the right fit at Tennessee, the kind of person and the kind of administrator the Vols’ athletic department desperately needs.
And it doesn’t take a $100,000 search firm to figure that out.