The University of Tennessee still does not have an AD to replace outbound Dave Hart, and it has hired a search committee to assist with the transition. Perhaps that was money incoming chancellor Beverly Davenport could have saved, as there is a candidate at one of the small schools nearby making it obvious he is ready and willing to take the position.
David Blackburn, AD at UT-Chattanooga, (above) has certainly made his intentions clear regarding his desire to lead the athletic staff in Knoxville. The UT graduate stated recently of returning to Knoxville, “If asked to be a part of this process officially in terms of an interview, I would love to, and it would mean the world to me to be able to lead that institution.”
Blackburn was sure to express his appreciation for the institution currently signing his checks, however, saying, “UTC’s been so good to me, and I’m so grateful and I’m happy. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what I have right now.” If it seems a bit unusual to express deep current satisfaction and to then discuss leaving for a different position, I’d agree with your confusion, but this is the nature of college athletics in today’s world where only the student-athletes get penalized for transferring to seek better opportunities.
So, while Blackburn publicly advertises himself as the perfect candidate for Rocky Top, what should UTC be thinking and doing? While most major changeovers in college athletics are usually still shrouded in some degree of secrecy, with both head coaches and athletic directors gaining celebrity, schools, particularly smaller ones with successful, up-and-coming ADs, should not be surprised if they start seeing more situations like this one.
Unfortunately, due to Blackburn’s success at UTC, any sort of DeFilippo-like ultimatums are out of the question. The Mocs have seen significant improvement and success under Blackburn such that they would likely be thrilled to retain him on the chance UT decides to go in a different direction.
However, the fact remains that while he thanks UTC for the opportunities he’s been given and exclaims how happy he is in Chattanooga, Blackburn cuts UTC with every reassertion of his interest in leaving. For this reason, it is vital that school leadership outside the athletics department has a pre-formed plan and methodology in dealing with scenarios such as this. While not a legal expert or contract negotiator, I would have to think that small schools looking to avoid this type of situation might start including in their offer sheets to ADs a clause forbidding them from publicly lobbying for the same position at another school while still under contract.
Unabashed self-promotion has been present in college sports for decades, although usually reserved for coaches and players. Small schools with hot commodities in their athletic departments must also start to game plan not just for the potential loss of coaches and staff, but of their internal leadership as well.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.