Former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton will go down in Volunteer history as a villain to many Big Orange fans. He fired Phillip Fulmer and replaced him with Lane Kiffin. He fired Bruce Pearl.
That’s dumb and dumber in many folks’ minds. And some of those people let Hamilton know about it in a ridiculous manner — with threats.
Speaking to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Hamilton said he “received several threats and it reached a point that I moved my family out of Knoxville for several days last spring and I was even assigned police protection.”
Surprising? Not in the least. Kiffin’s family claimed they received death threats on the way out of Knoxville as well. Just this past week, San Francisco 49er Kyle Williams received death threats via Twitter after fumbling away his team’s shot at a Super Bowl.
In the age of the internet, everyone is anonymous. That cloaked status encourages decent people to behave like children and imbalanced people to behave like criminals. If booze makes folks feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof, the anonymity of the internet allows some to view themselves as the biggest, baddest asses in the world.
Well, at least the ass part is true.
Hamilton — who’s now working as the president of a Nashville-based charity — says he has no regrets about the way he did his job, including the hires of Kiffin and Pearl. “Lane was the right person for the job at that time. I hate how things worked out in the end, but there was no way of seeing that when we made that hire.”
“I know every move I made while I was at UT was made with the best interest of the university in mind. I have confidence in the decision to hire Lane, and Bruce had an unbelievable run. Again, I hate how things ended with those two examples. I’m like anyone else and there are times when you reflect on decisions and what you might have done differently. In any area of your life, all you can do is your best every day, and some days I felt better about my decisions than others.”
In this writer’s view, Hamilton deserves heat from Tennessee fans because ultimately the buck stopped at his desk. But in terms of his individual decisions, he wasn’t the clown he’s often been made out to be.
He fired Phillip Fulmer, but Fulmer had had two losing seasons in his last four and hadn’t won an SEC title in a decade at the time of his dismissal.
Had Hamilton hired a good replacement, no one would be claiming today that Tennessee should have held on to its legendary ex-coach. Interestingly, Hamilton did — it seems — hire a darn good coach. Kiffin and crew have done an excellent job at Southern Cal so far (though they’re about to feel the brunt of recruiting restrictions and NCAA penalties).
Hamilton’s mistake with Kiffin was not weighing the possibility that Pete Carroll might leave Southern Cal and the Trojans might come after the ex-Carroll aide. (In truth, though, who at the time would have foreseen all that?) But that’s exactly what happened and Kiffin left Tennessee high and dry. And that burned the Vol football house to the ground. Two years of attrition and a coaching change right before signing day aren’t appealing to prospective coaches.
Will Muschamp turned down millions to replace Kiffin. Only the likes of Derek Dooley would take such a job. So while Hamilton is pilloried for “finding” Dooley, in reality, his candidate pool was going to be awfully shallow simply due to circumstances.
As for Pearl, the ex-coach took Tennessee basketball to unseen heights, but he blew his career apart with a lie to NCAA investigators and a phone call to a prospect’s father in an attempt to keep the person quiet about a barbecue. The idea that Hamilton is to blame for Pearl’s downfall is laughable. Ditto the notion that UT could’ve kept Pearl and his staff. Hard to do that when the coach lands a three-year show cause penalty and recruiting ban.
Hamilton oversaw a comedy of errors, yes, but fate and the actions of other people played a large role in his demise. Had Kiffin not abandoned him after a year and had Pearl not found it necessary to cover up what would have been a secondary violation, Hamilton might still be Tennessee’s athletic director overseeing a pair of healthy programs.
Of course, just for suggesting that, I’ll probably get a couple of death threats.