First football coach Lane Kiffin. Then basketball boss Bruce Pearl. Now baseball’s Todd Raleigh.
If you’re scoring at home, University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton now is 0-3 in hiring a coach either willing or capable of remaining at least seven years in his three most important men’s programs.
With a track record such as that after Monday’s firing of Raleigh, expect to hear much more from Hamilton’s camp about his unparalleled skills as a fundraiser and physical plant developer and far less about his coaching choices.
Just don’t expect his growing number of detractors to let him off the hook that easily.
After all, when you fire a football coach who not only is a loyal alumnus but also has a national championship to his credit and replace him with a young jerk who not only waves bye-bye after one season but also leaves behind enough errors in judgment to launch an NCAA investigation, you’re going to make a few enemies.
When your benchmark hire for men’s basketball is run out of town after six successful seasons for lies to the NCAA about secondary violations, you’re going to make a few more enemies.
But relieving Raleigh of his duties — as the UT press release termed his dismissal — may be the biggest blow yet to Hamilton’s credibility as a coach catcher.
Unlike former football coach Phillip Fulmer, who had lost Joe Average Fan long before Hamilton cut him loose, Rod Delmonico had guided the Vols baseball team to its third College World Series under his watch just two years before Hamilton terminated him in 2007.
The man may have been difficult to deal with and even harder to play for, but he went to eight NCAA regionals and won 64 percent of his games.
Conversely, Raleigh exits with an overall winning rate of 49 percent (108-113) and a far worse SEC mark of 42-78 (35 percent).
All of which begs the question: Should Hamilton follow Raleigh out the door?
Forced to take sides in this argument, I’d still say Hamilton has been far more good than bad for the Big Orange during his eight full school years on the job.
Neyland Stadium may now be the finest facility in the country for college football, and shrewd financial decisions by the AD during these recessionary times are expected to bring the entire $200 million project in under original cost projections.
He gets similarly sky-high marks for his Thompson-Boling Arena vision. Too big and too bland when Hamilton became AD, he made renovating the Boling Alley a top priority as soon as Pearl proved winning basketball games could sell out the place.
The result is not only a facility that surpasses Kentucky’s famed Rupp Arena and the far newer Bud Walton Arena at Arkansas in creature comforts, but one that just might become a national blueprint for modernizing stale hoops structures.
Throw in the basketball practice facility, the renovated football complex and a host of other smaller projects, and Hamilton has more than enough home runs to negate his coaching strikeouts.
Still, when you’re raising prices at the same time your coaches are lowering the fun quotient, your job security is bound to suffer.
So how should Hamilton be viewed in the wake of Raleigh’s removal?
Given that most universities are wrapping up final exams, let’s go with a report card.
Physical plant improvement — A-plus.
Fundraising — A.
Football — Give him a D for firing Fulmer, mostly because one more year would have wiped away the Fulmer faction arguments that he deserved one more year and also would have saved the school money on a contract Hamilton needlessly extended.
Also a D for hiring Kiffin, not so much because Kiffin can’t coach or because he left after one year, but because allowing Kiffin to bring controversial Ed Orgeron aboard almost assuredly led to NCAA violations.
As for Derek Dooley, at some point he’ll need to win far more than he loses, but given the timing of Kiffin’s exit, a B for now.
Basketball — Earns a C for Pearl, a far drop from the A he would have kept without the coach’s freefall from grace. Give him a B on Pearl replacement Cuonzo Martin, mostly because the guy never reached the NCAA tournament during his three seasons at Missouri State.
Baseball — F.
Which brings us to Hamilton’s future. When he fired Raleigh, the AD said, “We believe a change in leadership is necessary in order to move the program forward.”
One more hire like Raleigh and Hamilton’s own words could rudely return to relieve him of his duties.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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