David Blackburn wasn't wearing orange Monday when he visited campus as one of the three finalists for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director job. The colors on his tie were blue and gold.
The University of Tennessee senior associate athletic director, who has spent more than two decades in Knoxville, knew which color wouldn't play well on UTC's campus.
In a one-on-one interview with the Times Free Press before a brief news conference, Blackburn acknowledged that his long tenure at UT may not sit well with a section of UTC's fan and alumni base.
However, Blackburn said his time in Knoxville — with a range of responsibilities that included overseeing football operations, raising money and being a non-coaching assistant on Phillip Fulmer's staff — has given him experience in virtually every phase of athletics. His relationships with officials in Knoxville and within the UT system also could benefit UTC, he said.
"I think having worked in the state system, no one understands it like I do," said Blackburn, a 1990 Tennessee graduate who has worked at UT in numerous positions since 1993. "I know what the challenges are within it, and I also know how to advance within that state system. I think that's a real advantage for me, that I can bring to the table for UTC.
"I think it's a positive. I think it gives me a chance to get in and advocate for UTC in a very respectful way."
The Loudon, Tenn., native was the first of the three finalists to make an official visit to UTC's campus. Wake Forest associate athletic director Mike Buddie visits today, and former Middle Tennessee State and North Carolina State athletic director Lee Fowler takes his turn Wednesday.
Blackburn got a thorough tour of Chattanooga from interim athletic director Laura Herron on Sunday afternoon — Herron has been at the helm since Rick Hart left for SMU in July — and he met with UTC's coaches and top athletic staff Monday morning. What followed was a full day of meetings and forums, which Buddie and Fowler also will experience.
"People make the place, and the people have been so good and energetic," Blackburn said.
Well aware of what's happening within UTC's athletic department, which needs men's and women's basketball coaches, and the Southern Conference realignment challenges, Blackburn said the new AD will have some big decisions to make right away. He hopes he's the one making them.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...