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UT Chancellor Stands Behind A.D. Hamilton

Over the past two years, no athletic director in America has been on the receiving end of more body blows and haymakers from the national press than Tennessee’s Mike Hamilton.

First, his hire of Lane Kiffin blew up in his (and Tennessee’s) face.  With Kiffin’s January departure, Hamilton had to hire a coach just three weeks before signing day.  As a result he was turned down more times than a hotel bedspread, finally snaring Louisiana Tech’s Derek Dooley as he limped away from a 4-8 season with the Bulldogs.

At least Hamilton had Bruce Pearl going for him.  Scratch that.  When news broke that UT’s basketball coach had lied to NCAA investigators and attempted to get a recruit’s father to help cover-up his deeds, the national media screamed for blood.  But Hamilton stood by his man.  Half a year later he finally pulled the plug on Pearl — first with an ill-timed interview on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and then with an official firing notice.

And who did he land to replace the ever-popular Pearl?  Cuonzo Martin from Missouri State… a coach most Vol fans had never heard of (despite a solid reputation among basketball folks).

While pundits from ESPN to CBSSports have called for Hamilton’s head — and many fans in Volunteer State have added to that chorus — there’s still one guy who appears to have Hamilton’s back.  His boss.

UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek tells The Associated Press: “I think it’s been a tough period, but Mike has, I think, hired two outstanding coaches in Derek Dooley and Cuonzo Martin.  I think both of them, the longer we get to know each of them, the better we’re going to get to like them.  We’ve just got to be patient as that unfolds.”

Patience.  Now that’s a word sports fans love to hear.

“I think the fans are very important to our program,” Cheek said.  “But we’re here to manage the (athletics) programs.  These are complex decisions we have to make.  There’s certainly information that I’m privy to that the rest of the public is not privy to.  We have to look at everything.”

Perhaps Cheek’s support for Hamilton also reveals what has been whispered in Knoxville since Pearl was given the boot — Hamilton was only following marching orders from Cheek and a few key Vol boosters.  If so, then Cheek might simply be showing loyalty to someone who took the fall for another group’s decision.

Of course, this could all be smoke, too.  Southern Cal dismissed AD Mike Garrett after the Trojans went before the NCAA’s committee on infractions, not before.  If Cheek is still supportive of Hamilton — after the Vols’ own meeting with the NCAA’s COI — then his words will carry a lot more weight than the ones he uttered this week.


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