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Hamilton’s Status At UT Appears Solid… For Now

No athletic director in the country has taken a more sustained beating in recent months than Tennessee’s Mike Hamilton.  The vocal Vol fans of the talk radio/messageboard universe are squarely agin’ him.  A few important UT boosters are also believed to have lost faith in his leadership.  And the national media has been sticking in its knives first for Hamilton’s decision to keep Bruce Pearl and then for his decision to fire him.

Despite all that, Hamilton appears safe.  For now.

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek gave support to his athletic director yesterday following the introductory press conference for new basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.  “I think if you look at this hire we just made, we really made an excellent hire — Mike Hamilton is behind it.  He’s the one that made the decision.  He asked me to come in and look at Cuonzo, and I did.  I said, ‘This is the person I think we ought to hire.’”

Cheek also told The Knoxville News Sentinel that since he allowed Hamilton to make the hire, obviously he has “confidence in his decision-making ability.” 

“He’s our athletic director,” said Cheek.

It is common knowledge among the media in Knoxville that Pearl’s unpopular ouster was orchestrated by Cheek and a few key Vol boosters who no longer wanted the school’s name dragged through the mud.  Hamilton was left to deliver the news to fans and they have killed the messenger, in turn.

It’s also believed — strongly by — that Hamilton was instructed to prepare the fanbase that a change in leadership was likely coming in the run-up to the NCAA Tournament.  Hamilton followed orders — we believe — and was pilloried by Vol backers and talking heads across the country for undermining his team’s chances in the NCAA Tournament.  (The Vols finished the season 12-15 in their last 27 games, so it’s a little hard to blame UT’s loss on the AD’s comments.)

But now that Hamilton has been allowed to become the scapegoat for the Pearl mess, how can the University of Tennessee keep him?  Fair or not, when angry Tennessee fans hold back on their season-ticket purchases this year — and it sure sounds like some will — Hamilton will be pinpointed by many as the reason.

It’s entirely possible that Hamilton will suffer a fate similar to former Southern Cal AD Mike Garrett’s.  Garrett was kept on through the Trojans’ date with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions because he knew the ins and outs of the NCAA’s case and the USC defense.  You don’t change attorneys midway through a murder trial.  But once the verdict came in, Garrett was KO’d and replaced by Pat Haden.

Hamilton and Tennessee go before the COI in June. 

Hamilton is the man who fired Phillip Fulmer.  But for the first time in decades, fans weren’t filling Neyland Stadium.  He hired Lane Kiffin who left him after one year and started Hamilton’s terrible downhill spiral.  He hired Pearl — once his greatest accomplishment — but that coach let him down as well by committing NCAA violations and then attempting to cover them up.

The buck stops with the AD.  Sometimes fairly, sometimes not (like when he’s simply following orders).  But with fans lining up against UT’s top man, the Vol administration has a choice to make — either push him overboard this summer or attempt to rehabilitate his reputation.

Whether Cheek’s comments from yesterday were the start of a rehab project or were just a delaying tactic designed to show support through June is anyone’s guess. 

But we’ll guess “delaying tactic.”



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