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SEC Athletic Directors: Time To Hold Your Nose, Hire Petrino

Maybe SEC presidents and ADs simply want no part of someone who lost his job via scandal.

Maybe the boards of trustees and regents across the conference just can’t imagine dealing with the negative fallout that would come with making such a hire.

Maybe the league’s leaders have quietly agreed to blackball the man who built up Louisville and Arkansas only to tear down his own career with some very poor choices last spring.

Or maybe word has gotten around that most players at Louisville, Atlanta and Arkansas didn’t care much for their ex-coach.  (They didn’t.)

Whatever the reason for SEC athletic directors at Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee have for ignoring Bobby Petrino… they need to get over it.  Petrino wins.  And in a sporting world where schools jump leagues for a shiny, thin dime and BCS-winning coaches can get ousted just two years after winning said championship, wins are really all that matters.

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Rumors Gruden Style: A Hogs-Vols Bidding War?

Well, let’s just start the day with the latest on Jon Gruden — the great white whale of college football fans everywhere.  There’s a reason we’ve used the photo we doctored up at left for the past few seasons.  Every fall Gruden’s name gets tied to numerous college football jobs and every season he winds up back in the ESPN broadcast booth.

But now that the Glazer family is no longer having to write him checks to not coach their Tampa Bay Buccaneers perhaps he really is ready to head back to the sidelines.  For weeks, Arkansas and Tennessee fans have been claiming on talk radio, on messageboards, and in emails to this and (we suspect) other sites that Gruden has already agreed to coach their beloved school.  His family has checked out schools and homes in those areas.  He’s been spotted in Fayetteville and in Knoxville (though no one can manage to get a clear photo of him or his family in this world filled with cell phone cameras).

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UT’s Dooley Says Hart Told Him There’s Been No Decision

So much for those rumors of Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart giving Derek Dooley his walking papers yesterday afternoon.  Not only was Hart watching a women’s soccer game in Knoxville when he was supposedly dropping the hammer on Dooley, but he actually gave the coach word — according to the coach himself — that no decision has been made yet.

According to Dooley at his usual Monday presser today:

 

“I didn’t ask him that, but I did ask him a lot of things.  We talked very frankly about it.  He told me he had not made a decision, whether we go 6-6, despite what all the reports are.

Either the sources are wrong, or Dave wasn’t being forthright with me, and I have no reason to think Dave’s not being forthright.  He’s an honest man, he’s always been honest with me and I’ve appreciated how he’s handled everything about this.  I really have.”

 

Tennessee’s coach is 4-18 in SEC play and he’s not likely to return next season.  Attendance has waned at Neyland Stadium and keeping Dooley would mean taking a financial hit next season.  Of course, buying Dooley out would also put the squeeze on an athletic department that lost cash last year.

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Firing Dooley And Staff Could Cost Vols Up To $9.3 Million

Ask 10 people at the University of Tennessee about Derek Dooley’s job security and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.  Some say Dooley and crew are well aware that they’ll need to win out to keep their jobs.  Others say that UT is likely to keep the coach because it takes time to rebuild a program.  Steve Spurrier’s process at South Carolina has been cited by more than one Tennessee employee in the past few days… suggesting the Vols will give Dooley as much time as USC gave the Ol’ Ball Coach.

It’s our belief that the decision of athletic director Dave Hart will be a green one and not a black-and-white one.  If he feels it’s too costly in terms of lost donations, ticket revenue, concessions and merchandising sales, etc, to proceed with Dooley, he’ll boot him.  If he feels that it’s too costly in the short-term to blow the staff up — in a year when UT’s athletic department experienced a shortfall — then he’ll keep him.

Well, the cost of vamoosing Dooley and staff is pretty steep.  As much as $9.3 million steep.

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Summitt Says Decision To Step Away ‘Entirely’ Hers

Pat Summitt released a statement Friday saying it was her decision in April to step down as the Tennessee women’s basketball coach.

“It was entirely my decision to step down from my position as Head Coach of women’s basketball the University of Tennessee,” Summitt wrote in her statement.

Summitt, who stepped down on April 18 to become head coach emeritus of the Lady Vols program, also denied that she was “forced out” by Tennessee.

“Anyone who knows me knows that any such effort would have met with resistance,” Summitt wrote. “If my affidavit has caused confusion on that point, it needs to be dispelled.”

As we wrote last night, a statement from Summitt or her son Tyler would have been the only thing to aid Tennessee as it battled public scrutiny from Summitt’s signed affidavit, which stated athletic director Dave Hart made the decision in the spring to replace Summitt with long-time assistant coach Holly Warlick.

This statement from Summitt should help ease the minds of many Tennessee fans who were directing anger at the school on Thursday.

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UT Athletics In Hot Water Now That Summitt Has Backed Ex-Employee’s Lawsuit

Around here we cover football and men’s basketball.  We only get into non-revenue sports when something very, very big happens.  Last week we told you that former Tennessee Lady Vol PR person Debby Jennings had filed suit against the school, claiming discrimination in her firing.  She also put Pat Summitt — sources who’ve talked with the ex-coach say she has “good days and bad days” in her battle with early-onset dementia — in the spotlight, forcing her to back a friend (Jennings) or back the school she loved and program she built.

Summitt has now joined in Jennings’ fight.

On Rocky Top, this will create a “men versus women” fight that will rage far beyond any courtroom Jennings’ suit reaches.  This could ultimately be a major blow to the tenure of AD Dave Hart who was hired last year.

The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that Jennings’ lawsuit against UT has been amended in reaction to the school refuting Jennings’ initial claim that Summitt had been told she would not return as coach next season.  A Vol spokesperson said last week: “That statement is absolutely not true.  It was Pat’s idea to be head coach emeritus.”  At the time of the announcement, Summitt, too, said that it was her decision to step aside.  She’s said that several times since.

Well, a sworn affadavit from Summitt has now been added to the suit that corrobarates the suit’s claim.  That affadavit states:

 

“On March 14, 2012, I had [a] meeting with [Tennessee athletic director] Dave Hart. The meeting took place prior to our team traveling to Chicago for the NCAA tournament. During this one-on-one meeting, Dave Hart indicated to me that I would not be coaching the Lady Vol Basketball team in the next school year (2012-13) and he planned to name Holly Warlick as the head coach. Dave Hart told me I would still have an office in Thompson-Boling Arena and my title could be Head Coach Emeritus. This was very surprising to me and very hurtful as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my family, doctors, colleagues and friends and not to be told this by Mr. Hart. I felt this was wrong.”

 

Summitt also said: “Prior to Debby Jennings’ termination,  I was not consulted by Dave hart, the UT Athletics Director.  But had I been consulted I would have requested that he reconsider termination, and try another alternative, such as disciplinary action, if he felt that was necessary.”

Also hurting Hart is Summitt’s claim that he spoke to her about doing away with the Lady Vols’ logo and branding all Tennessee teams with the “Power T” logo worn on the Volunteers’ football helmets.  When that story hit the press, Hart denied ever having such a notion.  Summitt: “I was angered when he came out in an interview with the media in May 2012 and denied that he ever intended to do away with the Lady Vol logo.”  (From a business perspective, Hart’s decision to nuke an extra logo and all the extra apparel that featured it would cut off an extra revenue stream.  If he did think about dumping the Lady Vols’ logo, he was willing to give up some cash in merchandise sales by doing so.)

So here’s where things stand:

 

1.  It’s going to be hard for Hart to survive this.  Really.  Summitt is a living legend in the Volunteer State and many people feel she deserved the right to go out in her own way.  Last season, there were times when her assistants had to steer her towards the opposing coach for the traditional postgame handshake — extremely sad, by the way — but if that’s how she wanted things to end, it should have been her call.

2.  Now that Summitt has publicly annihilated Hart, will she keep her $350,000 per year “emeritus” job and her office at Thompson-Boling Arena?  Good luck to the person who fires Summitt altogether.

3.  Summitt — or some would say Hart — has now annihilated the Tennessee women’s basketball program, too.  Good luck recruiting in this mess.  By supporting Jennings, Summitt has further put her longtime friend and aide Warlick in a bind.  (Of course, we don’t know the relationship between Summitt and Warlick at the moment.  Who knows if Summitt felt then or might feel now that Warlick might have played some role in her departure?  That’s a question for another day.)

4.  Will Tennessee fight fire with fire?  Those close to the program and those close to Summitt say that she simply is not herself at all times anymore.  In court, Hart and UT could certainly call witnesses to suggest that Hart was trying to spare Summitt a sad ending to her career.  Why else force her out only to replace her with her top assistant?  But if Hart and the school choose to go that route and air dirty laundry, they’ll be viewed as embarrassing a legendary figure.

5.  Horribly, the question must be asked: Does Summitt really know what she’s saying at this point?  After all, she did state publicly that she was not forced out.  Now, months later, she’s aiding a lawsuit against the University of Tennessee claiming that she was indeed forced out.

6.  Finally, UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek could catch hell for this as well.  After all, Hart was his hire and this — allegedly — went down on his watch.

 

This one’s going to get very ugly, very fast for Tennessee.  Considering the end of the Phillip Fulmer era, the brief Lane Kiffin era, the hire of Derek Dooley, the end of the Bruce Pearl era, the end of the Mike Hamilton era and now this… maybe it’s time for the school to just shut down athletics altogether before they shoot themselves in the foot once more.  And all this time I thought Barney Fife was in Mayberry, not Knoxville.

Summitt has come to Jennings’ defense and gutted her school and her old program in the process.  Hart — allegedly — arrived in Knoxville and immediately forced the most popular person in the state of Tennessee out of her job.

Lose, lose.

 

UPDATE – We’ve been catching some flak in the ol’ email inbox from Tennessee fans for not stating loudly enough in this piece that Jennings was wrong to drag her ill friend Summitt into this mess.  But that point was actually the main takeaway from the piece we wrote last week regarding Jennings’ lawsuit.  If you read that piece, you’ll see that the first paragraph today picks up right where that one left off.  And to my knowledge, we were the only folks to call Jennings into question for placing Summitt in a bind… until today.

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UT’s Athletic Department Lost Almost $4 Million Last Fiscal Year

Welcome to Knoxville, Dave Hart.

Tennessee’s athletic director knew when he left Alabama that he would be going from a top football program to a struggling one.  He might not have known, however, that he was also leaving the penthouse for the poorhouse.

Literally.

WNML-AM/FM in Knoxville reports today that UT lost nearly $4 million on athletics in the last fiscal year.  Using documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the station found that Tennessee’s reserve fund had dropped “to just under $2 million.”  The reserve fund at Alabama, where Hart served as assistant AD to Mal Moore?  More than $80 million.

Ouch.

“It is critical that our athletics program be financially healthy and that its budget is sustainable,” chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a press release.  “We are committed to having premier athletics programs at the University of Tennessee, and to do that, we must develop a financial model that pays for these programs while also building up the necessary reserve funds.”

One effort Tennessee is making on this front is the consolidation of its men’s and women’s programs.  UT was one of the last schools in the country to have separate departments and a number of positions — and salaries — have already been dumped as the departments have been combined.

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UT’s Dooley Says New A.D. Hart Has Re-Energized Him

When a new athletic director arrives on campus, coaches tend to pucker up a bit.  That’s because ADs — like most new bosses — often like to put their own people in place around them.  In the case of Derek Dooley at Tennessee, it would seem he’d have plenty of reasons to worry about the intentions of his new boss, Dave Hart.

Speak to those close to the Tennessee program and you’ll soon learn that even the assistant coaches believe Dooley’s job won’t be safe unless he wins eight football games this fall.  Coming off a 5-7 season, a streak-ending loss to Kentucky, and facing a further decline in season-ticket sales, Dooley’s seat is warm to say the least.

Couple that with the fact that Hart — who came from Alabama (no banjo on his knee, though) — has close ties to new Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and is rumored to be tight with Alabama defensive coordinator/up-and-coming coaching prospect Kirby Smart and you might expect Dooley to be looking over his shoulder these days.

Not so.  At least not according to the coach:

 

“Dave has had a real re-energizing effect on me in a positive way.  He, of course, has a great background of understanding big-time college athletics.  He was the son of a coach, so he gets coaching.  He gets the day-to-day problems that come with coaching, and he’s just been incredibly supportive of everything we’re doing.

We have a lot of dialogue.  We talk at least every week, and he’s very much in tune with our issues.  My only hope is that we allow Dave to do his job, and that’s the only hope I have.  If Dave’s allowed to do his job, then we’re going to have success as a department…

I think we’re on the same page (regarding expectations), and I think what I appreciate about Dave is that he also understands the world of coaching.  He understands that (there’s) things you can control, and certainly we need to show significant improvement on that. He understands things you can’t control that you have to learn to manage day to day.

We’re on the same page, and I’m appreciative of Dave’s kind of taking on this role.  I think he’s going to be great for Tennessee.”

 

Sounds good.  But Dooley better get off to a good start this fall and provide proof of progress if his relationship with his new boss is to remain positive.

As for the coach’s odd comment regarding Hart being allowed to do his job, rest assured that some UT fans will wonder if Dooley might be targeting Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek with that remark.

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UT Is Packing Up To Spend A Week Of Training Camp Off Campus

The University of Tennessee athletic department has had its share of bungles in recent years.  Mistakes, missteps, mismanagment… name a plague and the Volunteers have managed to find a way to contract it.

But here’s a move by the school that actually looks pretty darn smart.  With a new football complex still under construction on the school’s Knoxville campus, Derek Dooley will take his team to Milligan College in Elizabethton, Tennessee for an NFL-style, away-from-home week of preseason work.

Athletic director Dave Hart’s explanation of the move makes it sound quite wise:

 

“The decision to train off-campus this year is not only driven by the factor of our move into our new Football Training Center, but also by the opportunity to maximize the ability of our coaching staff to become further acclimated to one another and the team in a very controlled environment.  I support Derek’s decision and feel strongly that we need to make this investment in our football program as we prepare to open our season in Atlanta (against North Carolina State on Aug. 31).

This is a one-time situation, and there are no plans to train off-site at any time in the future.”

 

Dooley’s team suffered from serious chemistry issues and a lack of leadership in 2012.  On top of cleaning up that mess, he’s having to break in seven new assistants out of a possible nine.  A little bonding session away from the comforts of home might do the coaches and the players some good.

As for why more schools don’t do this type of thing and why Tennessee doesn’t plan to do it in the future — money.  It won’t be cheap to house and feed an entire football team for a full week away from campus.

Still, facing the challenge he’s up against in 2012, Dooley seems to have made a good call on this one… even if it was in part forced by construction work on UT’s campus.

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Fulmer Would Have ‘Jumped All Over’ Arkansas Job

Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer’s name surfaced last month in connection with the Arkansas coaching job after the Razorbacks fired Bobby Petrino.

Doug Matthews – a former Tennessee assistant coach and friend of Fulmer – told WGFX-FM in Nashville that communication had been made by Arkansas with Fulmer, who denied at the time having been contacted by the Razorbacks.

Arkansas, of course, decided to hire John L. Smith, who served as an assistant in Fayetteville from 2009-11 before leaving for a brief stint as Weber State’s head coach.

But Fulmer, who was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday, made it clear he would have been very interested in coaching at Arkansas had the Razorbacks offered him the position.

“The Arkansas job I would have jumped all over,” Fulmer said Tuesday during an interview on WGFX. “That was a really special situation and a really good team and had a chance. And that’s what I’ve said all along – I’m looking for an opportunity you can go compete for championships. At this stage in my career, I’m not looking for a dead end somewhere.

“I miss coaching. I also enjoy time with my family and children and grandchildren and all those things and the business that I’m in. Once you’ve done it for as long as I have, you have a passion for young people and the competition and all those things. You obviously miss it.”

Fulmer, who told WGFX that Arkansas officials spoke to his representatives, said he recognized why the Razorbacks went with Smith.

“I certainly understand the familiarity with John L. was a good thing for them as it turns out and I hope he does well,” Fulmer said.

Fulmer is more than familiar with Tennessee having served as a player, assistant coach and head coach at the school. He was asked if he could see himself returning to the school in an administrative or other role in the future.

“You never say never in the athletics world,” Fulmer said. “Today is kind of more of a day to celebrate what all we accomplished as a staff and as an organization during that time and not really to reflect on what could be somewhere down the road. Tennessee is my school and I love it dearly and the people that had anything to do with my leaving Tennessee are not there any longer and we’ll see what happens.”

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart appears hopeful that Fulmer’s presence on campus will be more frequent. He was asked Tuesday during the school’s caravan stop if he would like to see Fulmer around the program more often in the future.

“Absolutely, and that’s what I’ve stressed to him,” Hart said.

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