Former University of Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton was in Chattanooga on Thursday to promote awareness for his new venture as president of U.S. Operations for Nashville-based charity Blood:Water Mission, a nonprofit organization that addresses the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa.
Hamilton and his wife have five adopted children, three from Africa, so he described his new job as a labor of love as he spoke to a gathering of Boyd-Buchanan School alumni, faculty and parents.
While in town, Hamilton, who spent the last eight of his 19 years at UT as AD, took time to answer questions from the Times Free Press.
TFP: How difficult were the last two and a half years on the job as UT’s athletic director?
MH: “It was difficult. I received several threats and it reached a point that I moved my family out of Knoxville for several days last spring and I was even assigned police protection. I’m 48 years old with five young children, so I had to stop and realize life is short and it was time to reassess my priorities.
“I’m like a lot of men, I have my pride and I’m stubborn about admitting I need to make changes in my life, but I had to step back. And after I left UT, the Lord opened up wonderful opportunity for my family and me.”
TFP: Would you consider returning to athletics?
MH: “I still enjoy being around athletics. I went to one UT game and two at Clemson last fall. I go to Belmont basketball games and Predators games. I actually enjoyed the pressures of the level that I worked in. But I needed some time away from that world to recharge my batteries.
“I’ve thought about whether I would get back into athletics, because there are aspects of that world that I do miss and enjoy, so I would never say never.”
TFP: Your new venture is so different than what you had done for the last 25 years. What was the main reason you decided to leave athletics?
MH: “What I’m doing now is so much at the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s very rewarding in its own way and has its own set of challenges, but it’s where I feel I need to be right now. It’s where my wife and I feel the Lord has led us at this point in our lives.
“Wherever I go, inevitably people want to ask about UT, and that’s fine. I lived in Knoxville longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life and have a lot of wonderful relationships and memories there. I love that university and I’m proud of what we accomplished in my time there.”
TFP: How closely do you still monitor the careers of your last two major coaching hires at UT, Derek Dooley and Cuonzo Martin?
MH: “Of course I’m going to keep up with them and remain interested in how they do. I view them now more as friends than as people I helped hire now. I actually stopped by Memorial Gym Tuesday afternoon before [UT] played Vanderbilt to talk with Cuonzo and his staff. I didn’t stay for the game because I didn’t feel like that was my place right now. I also went to a UT football game last fall, and I’m pulling for Derek and the program.
“I’m a UT fan. My kids are Vols fans. I hope both programs return to the level that the fans expect them to be and soon.”
TFP: Do you regret hiring Lane Kiffin?
MH: “Lane was the right person for the job at that time. I hate how things worked out in the end, but there was no way of seeing that when we made that hire.”
TFP: Besides the Kiffin hire, are there any other decisions you made that you regret looking back on it, particularly firing Phillip Fulmer or how things ended with Bruce Pearl?
MH: “I know every move I made while I was at UT was made with the best interest of the university in mind. I have confidence in the decision to hire Lane, and Bruce had an unbelievable run. Again, I hate how things ended with those two examples. I’m like anyone else and there are times when you reflect on decisions and what you might have done differently. In any area of your life, all you can do is your best every day, and some days I felt better about my decisions than others.
“There’s a sign that hangs over the football locker room door that the players touch on their way out onto the field that says, ‘I will give my all for Tennessee today.’ Not to sound too hokey, but I had one of those signs hanging over my garage door to remind me every day when I left for work what I needed to do.”
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...