Boclair: Coaching the coaches

Friday, June 24, 2011 at 5:24pm

There will be talk of integrity. Oversight. Doing things the right way.

Eventually, the University of Tennessee will hire an athletics director to replace Mike Hamilton and will serve up any number of reasons why this person was chosen.

No one will say anything about money, which really is the core issue.

Above all else these days, athletics directors are fundraisers. They have to do the bulk of the work to upgrade facilities, expand recruiting budgets, and all the other things required to keep athletics departments relevant in this day and age. They are not what they once were, which was a resource and a manager of the coaches, and someone who set a philosophy for the entire athletics department. 

That’s why Tennessee has the mess it currently does — millions of dollars going to coaches no longer on the job, appointments with the NCAA, high-profile teams that do not win as much as they once did. 

UT is not alone in this regard, of course. Has anyone else stopped to wonder why so many major players on the athletics scene (we’re looking at you, Ohio State and North Carolina) are in so much trouble? 

It used to be that when universities got big enough and successful enough on the fields and in the gymnasiums, they were seemingly untouchable. Most of them had athletics directors who were former coaches. As ADs, they not only provided counsel for coaches who were faced with dilemmas, they probably saw — and addressed — a lot of potential issues before they arose.

Now we see coaches acting on their own with no one to rein them in. Bruce Pearl not only figures he can get away with breaking a recruiting rule, but his first instinct also is to lie when questioned about it. Lane Kiffin does and says all sorts of outrageous things and attracts the attention of NCAA investigators
in virtually no time.

All the while Hamilton shook hands, gave speeches and accepted donations. Chances are he had no idea what his coaches were doing, because having never been a coach himself, he had no idea what they were supposed to do. 

Notre Dame dropped all pretenses three years ago when it hired Jack Swarbrick — a nationally renowned lawyer and a graduate of the university’s business school — to run the athletics department. At least now, if the Irish coaches get in trouble, they have someone to steer them through the legal hurdles that will arise. It’s something for Tennessee’s administrators to consider. 

For all the talk that Phillip Fulmer or Pat Summitt might make worthwhile choices, the reality is that most coaches probably are not qualified for what the job has become, not to mention the fact that most probably wouldn’t want the job. 

Get a lawyer. A CEO. A bail bondsman. 

It’s all about business now, so it requires someone who knows how to run a business — and preferably has done so. 

After all, college athletics departments — particularly ones the size of UT — are hardly mom-and-pop shops. These are financial giants, only no one is going to line up to bail them out should they fail. 

Hamilton, by all accounts, was a sensational fundraiser. He did exactly what he was hired to do in that regard, yet it was the antiquated notion of an athletics director — that he actually direct athletics — that led to his forced departure.

It’s time for the university to be truthful with itself about its situation and its needs.

David Boclair is sports editor of The City Paper. Follow him on Twitter @BoclairSports or email him at dboclair@nashvillecitypaper.com

1 Comment on this post:

By: joe41 on 6/27/11 at 7:44

The problem is that many of these same people have no scruples. They say money trumps scruples and that will lead to the downfall of college sports as we know it.
Joe