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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)

Joan Cronan made many positive things happen for the University of Tennessee women's athletic program that sports fans, alumni and students will be witnessing for a long time.

Cronan retired from the university at the end of last month. From 1983 until 2012, she was women's athletic director, constructing and presiding over one of the nation's most respected, popular and successful programs.

When the program she managed merged with the men's athletic program under Dave Hart, the women's program had swelled to 10 sports and a multimillion-dollar budget. Before her retirement, Cronan worked for the last two years as an adviser to UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

The successful Lady Vols programs she played such a large role in building came as much from her administrative operations as from her personal brand of public relations: glad-handing during basketball games, getting to know alumni on a personal level that made them want to help a program headed for stardom.

Susan Williams, former Lady Vols associate athletic director for development, said Cronan likely will be remembered as the folksy person who stopped by their seats in the arena, "circling, circling," she said, "stopping, talking to everyone in the gym, which, frankly, is what made that program so popular with the fans."

She took her cue from Jerry Jones, longtime owner of the Dallas Cowboys (not a favorite because of his firing coach Tom Landry): "A leader is a person with a vision and a sphere of influence to make it happen."

Cronan's sphere was the entire Vol Nation but especially the growing community that centered on women's sports. As Cronan explained it: "I was never an AD who wanted to be sitting behind a desk. I didn't think that was my job. My job was to sell the program, to raise money, to have that sphere of influence."

The story of Cronan being successfully recruited by former Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt - while on a recruiting trip for an All-American player in Charleston, S.C. - is the stuff of legends. The player recruit landed elsewhere, but the bigger victory was landing Cronan and her supportive husband, Tom, who died in 2006.

Cronan says she has worked for 11 UT presidents, seven chancellors and four men's athletic directors during her 30 years on the Hill. She is being honored with a new volleyball practice facility near Regal Soccer Stadium being named for her.

Cronan was able to expand the Lady Vols brand to include golf, softball, soccer and rowing, all without harming notable men's programs such as football and basketball. And the women's programs have proved competitive, earning NCAA playoff berths and vying for conference championships.

Cronan's legacy will include not merely expanding the women's programs but lifting them to a level of quality and style that garners admiration and envy from others.

Not surprisingly, her "retirement" will be busy. She is one of four partners in DIREC Consulting, which is focused on helping small- and medium-sized business grow to the next level. She is also writing a book on lessons from sports for business titled "Sports Is Life with the Volume Turned Up."

We wish her the very best.

July 22, 2014

   
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