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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 Chancellor Talks Expansion

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek opened up about a number of expansion topics with The Knoxville News Sentinel today.  Among them:


* Why Texas A&M as a 13th member?

“First of all they’re a great academic and athletic institution.  They’re somebody we believe that has the same core values we have.  All of us are large, public universities.  Certainly Texas A&M is like that.  It would be a positive addition to the SEC.”

(Cheek — an A&M grad, by the way, should try telling Vandy that it’s a “large, public university.”)


* And what about the fact that A&M is farther away than other SEC schools?

“It’s a little further west than Arkansas, but, you know, if you look at the history of the Volunteers, they travel wherever we play.  It really doesn’t make a difference.”

(A note to those of you who still think proximity plays a big role in conference makeup.)


*  And have there been any discussions about possible fits for School #14?

“We have not had any discussions about any other schools.”

(That would seem to put the kibosh on rumors that Mike Slive was given some form of permission yesterday to pursue Missouri and West Virginia.)

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UT Chancellor Says Expansion “Very Difficult”

As Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced new athletic director Dave Hart yesterday, the conversation briefly turned to SEC expansion.  No surprise there.  He was asked where expansion stands and how difficult the process will be.  His answers:

 

“I think we said it real clearly when the SEC presidents and chancellors met recently, we would prefer to stay at 12. If something happens, then we have to reconsider that and we don’t know what implications that would have for us. …

It is very difficult. It is so complex. It’s not just moving in that direction (to) conference realignment. It’s deciding on divisions. It’s deciding on rivalries. It gets extremely complex, having been through the process in the Atlantic Coast Conference going from nine teams to 12. If indeed this becomes a reality, certainly it will cause a ripple effect without a doubt across the country.”

 

A smokescreen to cover the fact that the SEC already has all it’s ducks in a row?  Or an honest admission that things aren’t quite as buttoned up with a Texas A&M entry plan as many believe?

You decide.

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Bama’s Hart Accepts UT A.D. Position

The University of Tennessee has finally landed a new athletic director.  Not only did they finally find their man, but he’s got a long track record at major programs, including one inside the SEC.

But some Vol fans aren’t going to be as happy about the hire as you might think.

Dave Hart — an Alabama graduate — has accepted Tennessee’s offer and will leave the University of Alabama athletic department where he has served as the day-to-day CEO of the program since 2008.  Technically, Mal Moore is still Alabama’s top athletic administrator overseeing funding and facilities.

Hart is 62, so it’s doubtful that we hill head to Knoxville only to return to Tuscaloosa when Moore (72) retires.

When word leaked out last week that Hart was a top candidate for the Tennessee job, a sizable portion of the UT fanbase voiced their displeasure with the idea of Tennessee hiring someone with Bama ties.  The outcry was so loud in fact that some Knoxville media outlets have reported that UT’s search committee became torn over Hart’s selection.

On paper, Hart appears to be a solid hire for the Vols.  He served as East Carolina’s AD for 12 years before moving to Florida State for 12 more years.  Pushed out after a power struggle with FSU president TK Wetherell, Hart landed back at Alabama where he played basketball in the late-60s and early-70s.

In reality, Hart will now have to win over some fans whose blood runs so orange that it clouds their decision-making.  If a man is the best hire for a job, where he went to school shouldn’t matter.  In fact, if his hire hurts a rival, that should probably be viewed as a positive.

But then again, there are a few UT fans who’ve taken to talk shows and messageboards to suggest that Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek — who moved to UT from Florida — is undercutting the Vol program from the inside as part of a UF conspiracy.

Hopefully sanity will prevail in Hart’s case.

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Pearl Passes On Coaching, Stays In Knoxville

Cuonzo Martin’s job isn’t getting any easier.  Not only will Tennessee’s new basketball coach have to compete with a thin, inexperienced lineup this winter… but the man who left him that lineup will still be in town.

Former Vol coach Bruce Pearl has decided not to take what was reported to be a $500,000 per year offer to coach in the NBA’s D-league.  Instead, he will serve as vice president of marketing with a Knoxville-based grocery company.

“I worked for 33 years — my entire coaching career — to get to a place like Knoxville,” Pearl said in a statement.  “This is where my family lives, this is home.  We have made life-long friends here and we are very blessed to have this opportunity.”

Forbes magazing ranks HT Hackney as the 82nd largest privately held company in the country with annual revenues of about $4 billion.

Pearl, of course, has the right to live anywhere he likes.  But his decision to stay in Knoxville probably won’t help his successor.  Some close to Pearl have suggested that the coach would like to bide his time and possibly return to UT once his show cause penalty ends in three years.

If Martin struggles as expected with the roster Pearl left him, you can be sure some Vol fans will begin to countdown to the moment when Pearl’s penalty ends.  That said, if chancellor Jimmy Cheek remains at Tennessee, it’s hard to imagine Pearl getting another shot with the Vols, regardless of fan sentiment.

Whether he holds out hope of a return or not — and we’re guessing he’d deny that publicly — you can for now say to goodbye to Bruce Pearl the basketball coach… and say hello to Bruce Pearl the grocery supply marketer.

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Ex-Vol Assistant Rips UT Chancellor

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek is not a very popular man among many Vol sports fans.  To them, he’s the man who wrongfully ran off Bruce Pearl.  (Nevermind the coach’s decision to break a rule he’d broken before or his decision to lie to NCAA investigators or his decision to ask others not to mention the broken rule.)

To date, Cheek has also failed to hire an athletic director to replace Mike Hamilton.  LSU AD Joe Alleva used UT as leverage to get a raise in Baton Rouge.  And multiple reports have claimed that Tennessee was on the verge of hiring Georgia Tech’s Dan Radakovich… right up until the NCAA dropped a bomb on him and his program, which left egg on the face of the Vol program.  (Nevermind the fact that both Radakovich and mutliple UT sources have said that Tech’s AD and Cheek never spoke face-to-face or even over the phone.)

Things have gotten so bad for Cheek, that there’s a growing number of Vol fans on messageboards and radio talkshows who believe he is secretly working to destroy Tennessee from the inside.  Cheek, you see, moved to Knoxville after working for years at the University of Florida.  Therefore, he’s viewed by some as a sort of UF sleeper cell who has infiltrated the infrastructure of one of the Gators’ biggest rivals in an effort to destroy its athletic department.

No.  We’re not kidding.

Well you can be sure this won’t help Cheek’s cause — former Pearl assistant Tony Jones has now taken some shots at the man who fired him, Pearl and two fellow assistants:


“The final straw for our coaching staff, according to UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek, was the alleged bump (violation) heard around the world, and it wasn’t even in the report and the Committee on Infractions deemed it not to be a violation at all…


I’m sure that makes the Vol Nation have a lot of confidence in Chancellor Cheek, who never even bothered to meet with our coaching staff.”

Ouch.  For those Vol fans who believe the school could have held onto Pearl (for three years without him being able to recruit or meet with prospects) and his staff (who would not be able to recruit or meet with prospects for one full year) this will serve as further proof of the grand Cheek Conspiracy.

However, as we noted yesterday, the NCAA did UT a favor when it alleged a bump violation that led to the basketball staff’s dismissal.  If not for that act, Tennessee would just now be moving into coach-finding mode.  And the school likely would have received multiple sanctions for keeping Pearl and — in effect — thumbing its nose at the NCAA, its rulebook and the integrity of its investigations.

Oddly enough, Tennessee got good news yesterday.  The NCAA made it clear that school officials had handled the lengthy investigation well.  As a result the NCAA even accepted the school’s self-imposed penalties and decided to assign no additional sanctions.  And what clearly helped the school was the firing of its basketball coach.

Yet for many in bright orange, yesterday was a bad day, not a good one.  Pearl was incredibly successful and popular.  In the view of some — better to hurt the program and try to keep the man than to dismiss the man and save the program.

When a fanbase is that dedicated to its (former) coach, it can’t bode well for the guy who fired him.  Even if doing so was the only realistic option available to him.

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LSU Trying To Fend Off UT For A.D. Alleva

Reports from Louisiana suggest that Tennessee officials searching for a new athletic director have focused in on LSU AD Joe Alleva… and chancellor Michael Martin wants to keep him.

“I do not know for sure that Tennessee has talked to Joe, but I understand they are interested in him,” Martin told The Shreveport Times.  “I know Joe has done a remarkable job at LSU under some difficult circumstances with the economy.  I think we’re always concerned about any of our people being scouted by another institution.  I’m hoping we don’t have to confront this one.  On the positive side, it’s always a good sign when another institution looks at our folks.”

Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana says via Twitter that “Two Tennessee sources are saying Joe Alleva has shaken hands on it and will be announced as new Tenn. AD on Wednesday.”

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek has been looking for a proven, seated athletic director to replace Mike Hamilton.  Alleva — who came to LSU from Duke in 2008 — certainly has experience.  But if he’s leaving Baton Rouge from Knoxville, he’ll also be taking some NCAA baggage with him.  LSU was just placed on probation in football and the NCAA recently returned to the Tigers’ campus to ask questions about street agent Willie Lyles.

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Don’t Expect Fulmer To Be UT’s Next AD

Earlier this week Phillip Fulmer told ESPN that he and his family would discuss their plans for the future and wait to see if the University of Tennessee administration would approach him about its soon-to-be vacant AD position.

MrSEC.com has learned that Fulmer will need to apply like anyone else if he’s to get consideration.  And even then that consideration is unlikely to be too strong.

Sources have confirmed reports that UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek is interested in finding an athletic director candidate who is currently serving in such a post elsewhere.  And while the Vol job is a tough sell at the moment — NCAA probation on the horizon, lengthy contracts for football and basketball coaches that a new AD will have to inherit — the school’s decision to combine its men’s and women’s athletic departments was a step taken with the express goal of making the job more appealing to “name” candidates.

While Fulmer certainly has ties to Tennessee as well as the support of many fans and ex-players, it would be an enormous surprise if the ex-football coach landed the AD gig.  In fact, it would likely take the schools’ biggest boosters swinging their wallets around to force Fulmer into the AD’s office.  And that’s not going to happen.

We believe in saying “never say never” and we’ll toss that caveat in here, too.  But according to this site’s sources, Fulmer does not fit the criteria put in place for Tennessee’s search.

As we wrote last night, we at MrSEC.com expect UT to soon announce that a search firm has been retained in an effort to track down a proven candidate.

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Hughes Off Football Team, Vol Fans Should Read The Book Of Job

Tennessee sports fans have had it pretty rough in recent years.  As we often say when a school gets slammed with NCAA sanctions, you can’t help but feel sorry for all the good fans of that school.  Well, we certainly feel bad about what Vol fans have had to endure.

Phillip Fulmer’s program declined to the point that he was replaced.  Lane Kiffin had a cup of coffee in Knoxville, broke a few rules, and then caught the last train for the coast.  Bruce Pearl was a shining star until he decided to lie about a barbecue at this house.  Wins in football and basketball turned to losses.  The national press has whipped the school and its leadership for the handling of most of the above.

And it seems to be getting worse.

For those Vol fans pleased that Mike Hamilton is exiting his athletic director’s post, writers like David Climer of The Tennessean are offering up frightening warnings about what kind of search UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek might run.

And just days after learning that Tennessee’s only returning starter at linebacker — Herman Lathers — had fractured his ankle and will miss the start of the season, Big Orange backers today got news that defensive tackle Montori Hughes is no longer on their favorite team.

While Derek Dooley wouldn’t specify why Hughes has been booted, the player has had academic issues in the past.  He’s also been penalized for the dreaded “violation of team rules.”

For Tennessee fans, things figure to turn around at some point.  But until that day, it might be wise to thumb through the Book of Job.  Perhaps you can relate.

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