UT makes life more difficult for Butch

Marvin West
Sports

Top leadership of the University of Tennessee, if there really is some, has made life more difficult than necessary for Butch Jones.

As the coach sought to improve his staff, prospective assistants kept asking nosey questions about who will be the next athletic director.

Potential offensive coordinators with names you might recognize were curious about the job and such trivia as chain of command, grasp and understanding, long-term stability and exactly how important will football be in the overall scheme of things.

Here’s the dilemma: If Butch was forced to pick an available replacement for Mike DeBord when he really wanted someone else, he has a built-in excuse for future problems. You tied my hands.

President Joe DiPietro and the board of trustees have known for months and months that UT needed a chancellor and athletic director. We’ve all known since August that Jimmy Cheek and Dave Hart were moving on.

Common sense dictated a new chancellor was the first priority in replacing the lame ducks – just in case that person wanted a vote in the selection of the new athletic director.

Identifying Beverly J. Davenport took almost forever. Time dragged on. Even for a quick study, figuring out what is Tennessee football takes longer than making instant potatoes. Delay, delay, delay.

Finally, she or DiPietro or somebody more powerful wants a professional search company to sort through AD possibilities, make recommendations and mask responsibility.

There was a time Butch and I thought we knew the next athletic director would be David Blackburn, Vol for life, very successful as recent leader of athletics at UT-Chattanooga. He seemed so obvious. He is 50. He has the ideal background. He has experience. He knows everybody who matters, big donors, politicians, thousands of fans. DiPietro is already his top boss.

David, son of a high school coach, was born in Loudon. He played quarterback there. He enrolled at UT and learned a lot as student manager for John Majors’ teams in 1988-89. He went to Morristown to be a coach. Phillip Fulmer invited him back for an administrative role in recruiting and compliance and a few dozen other things.

Doug Dickey saw greater potential and promoted Blackburn. Through the years, he looked after facilities, fundraising and event management. Because he could read and write, he evolved into the athletic department connection to the Thornton Center and academics. He participated in coaching searches. He became a senior associate AD under Mike Hamilton. He was a big help in dealing with the NCAA during a time of crisis, the Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin era.

If winning matters, it appears Blackburn and Chattanooga have excelled. Last year UT-C became the first school in a hundred years to win Southern Conference titles in football and men’s and women’s basketball.

Maybe I shouldn’t mention that the basketball Mocs defeated the Vols in the opener of this season.

Maybe I shouldn’t mention that Blackburn is Tennessee through and through. He is not from Florida or Alabama or even Cincinnati, from whence cometh Dr. Davenport and, before that, Coach Jones.

David has never been athletic director at Notre Dame or UCLA or even Kansas or Kentucky. He is known widely but is not famous outside the Volunteer family. But, he is smart and aware and interested.

Come to think of it, if the big time is what really matters. Dr. Davenport has never been chancellor at any of those places.

Marvin West invites reader reaction.
His address is westwest6@netzero.com.

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