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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


Tough decisions have to be made after a 5-0 start turned into an 8-4 finish with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Vols didn't just lose games. They lost an SEC East championship that should have been theirs.

While Tennessee's football season was unraveling, you might have forgotten about such trivial matters as who's running the athletic department.

Technically, it's Dave Hart, now serving as a lame-duck athletic director. In that role, it's fine for him to help represent the program on a basketball junket to Hawaii. But it's not appropriate for him to make decisions that could impact the football team long-term.

Which begs the question: Why hasn't Tennessee already hired an athletic director.

It didn't need a search committee for that. Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn is right down the road. Not only has he distinguished himself in that role, he worked in a variety of jobs in sports administration at UT for 20 years. He's a Tennessee guy and a football guy.

So why hasn't he been hired?

Maybe Tennessee is overthinking this. But given its long history of bad hires, don't rule out the possibility that it could botch this one, too, even though the choice seems so obvious.

Now that UT has hired Beverly Davenport as its new chancellor, you can't use the chancellor-must-come-before-the-athletic director excuse. She won't even go on the Tennessee clock until March 1. You can't wait that long to hire your next athletic director, not in light of what's happening with the football program.

Tough decisions have to be made after a 5-0 start turned into an 8-4 finish with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Vols didn't just lose games. They lost an SEC East championship that should have been theirs.

Fourth-year coach Butch Jones' responses to the losses have made matters worse.

On the same Saturday that the Vols beat Missouri, Florida upset LSU to win the division. Jones minimized the divisional outcome, stressing the importance of going 1-0 that day.

All he had to say: "We're excited over another SEC win but terribly disappointed that we didn't win the division, especially since we beat the team that did."

Fans would have been OK with that. They weren't OK with "1-0."

An athletic director wouldn't have been, either. Perhaps he could have reminded the coach of the 2016 team's motto, which Jones stressed in preseason: "Own it."

Well, he didn't "own it" in press conferences. A good athletic director could have pointed that out.

Jones needs to change his approach in how he presents his program to fans. He also needs to make staff changes. A good athletic director could point that out, too.

And there's also the matter of Jones' contract. Surely, Jones and his agent will push for a contract extension, maybe even a raise. There needs to be an athletic director in place to say "no" on both counts.

Jones doesn't need a contract extension. He needs to make changes. Ultimately, all coaches do if they hope to achieve long-term success.

Much of what Jones has done has worked. He has turned Tennessee from a losing program into a winning one. His recruiting has raised UT's talent to its highest level since the program went south in 2008. And he has improved as a game manager from last season to this one.

However, his system isn't infallible, as he billed it in his introductory press conference at UT. Something is amiss when a team falters as badly down the stretch as this one, and when as many high-profile recruits have left the program in the past few years.

Jones needs help. And a lame-duck athletic director can't provide it.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or [email protected] Follow him at

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Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn worked at Tennessee for nearly 20 years.
December 4, 2016


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