Timing was right for Hamilton to step away

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- As Mike Hamilton said himself on Tuesday, it was inevitable that he wasn’t going to be around much longer as Tennessee’s athletic director.

One way or the other, he was going to be out.

My sense is that he resigned himself to that fact months ago and felt it was best for him and best for the university to go ahead and step aside prior to Saturday’s hearing before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

He’ll still be in Indianapolis this weekend as Tennessee defends itself against 12 major violations levied against the football and men’s basketball programs.

Those 12 violations all came on Hamilton’s watch and on the watches of coaches hired by Hamilton -- Lane Kiffin in football and Bruce Pearl in basketball.

There will be some who blame Hamilton’s downfall on his hiring of Kiffin and Pearl, the two coaches who landed the Vols in hot water with the NCAA.

Kiffin bolted for USC after 14 tumultuous months at Tennessee that included almost as many secondary violations as he had wins (seven) during the 2009 season.

Pearl totally revolutionized the Tennessee men’s basketball program, taking the Vols to a No. 1 ranking in the polls during the 2007-08 season and an Elite 8 appearance during the 2009-10 season. But he was fired along with his staff following this past season after admittedly lying to NCAA investigators.

While Hamilton will forever be tied to Kiffin and Pearl and the embarrassment they caused the Vols off the field and off the court, what ultimately led to Hamilton’s demise was his inability to manage either coach.

Simply, it’s why Tennessee is staring down the barrel of the NCAA right now.

Hamilton did a lot of good things during his time at Tennessee, and he’s a genuinely good man.

But in the SEC, if you can’t manage coaches (and tell them "no" every once in a while) and aren’t a rock in crisis situations, you’re not going to be very effective as an athletic director.

And that was Hamilton's undoing in a nutshell.

He could no longer be effective as Tennessee’s athletic director, not with this NCAA cloud hovering and not with the way he had become (fairly or unfairly) a lightning rod for so much negativity directed toward the university.

For Tennessee fans, these past two or three years have represented one of the darkest periods in athletic department history.

There’s been one public relations hit after another off the field, both the football and men’s basketball programs facing NCAA major violations, and two of the last three football seasons ending with a losing record.

Just like a U.S. president, Hamilton gets the credit for everything that goes right on his watch, and he gets the blame for everything that goes wrong.

The wrong mounted to intolerable proportions for most of the people who count at Tennessee, meaning a change at the top of the athletic department tree was inevitable.

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek said a national search would be conducted for Hamilton’s replacement.

If Cheek is wise, he’ll at least take a look fairly close to home.

In alphabetical order, senior associate athletic director David Blackburn, former defensive back and current FOX television analyst Charles Davis and IMG Worldwide senior vice president Mark Dyer, formerly an executive at NASCAR, are three guys with Tennessee ties who would make excellent candidates.

Also, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart was at Tennessee for 12 years as an assistant under former Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey.

Being a “Tennessee guy” shouldn’t be a prerequisite for the job, but finding the right guy who just happens to be a “Tennessee guy” could go a long way toward healing what’s been a fractured Tennessee family for some time now.

Chris Low | email

College Football

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