published Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Mark Wiedmer: Blackburn can drive UTC sports but not a tractor

That David Blackburn was the right person to take over the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic department was supremely evident during his introductory reception Tuesday afternoon.

"His character and his absolute dedication to wanting this job were very impressive," said Linda Minks Hood, a member of the search committee.

Added longtime supporter Frank "Porky" Kinser: "This guy has multifaceted abilities. He understands the big picture -- everything from NCAA rules to fundraising, from the equipment room to the locker room -- as well as anyone we've ever had."

Yet according to Blackburn's wife, Andrea, her father's farm equipment on his livestock spread outside of Knoxville could similarly benefit from his son-in-law's move south.

"It's kind of a family joke," Andrea said. "Whenever David tries to help Dad on the farm, something always breaks."

Said her sheepish husband: "Sadly, it's true. I ran a 3-ton feeder into a ditch. It took us four hours to get it out and moving again. I've gotten a tractor stuck more than once. I'm afraid I'm not very handy around a farm."

So as this daunting task begins for the 47-year-old native of Philadelphia, Tenn., perhaps we should all hope that Blackburn can steer the UTC athletic department far better than he can a 3-ton feeder.

We should also hope that the men's and women's basketball coaches he must soon hire will have Blackburn helping cut down Southern Conference tournament nets as soon as next March. That the UTC football team reaches the playoffs for the first time since 1984. And that Blackburn's reputation for fundraising in his prior job at the University of Tennessee finally will fill UTC athletic coffers too long resembling a beggar's cup.

We should hope all of this because the school's athletic teams deserve it and Blackburn previously has shown the ability to deliver, as witness this quote from former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer in a UTC release: "[David] understands college athletics from many different standpoints and was crucial in what we accomplished while I was at Tennessee."

If Mocs football coach Russ Huesman can duplicate the same national championship and 63-11 record that Fulmer delivered during Blackburn's first six years with the Vols, well, it's highly unlikely Blackburn still will be UTC's AD seven years from now.

But that's all in the future. Today is about meeting our town's newest high-profile resident and his charming family, from Michigan native but longtime Volunteer State resident Andrea -- "I've lived in Sevier County most my life to get my twang," she said with a grin; to 16-year-old daughter Emma ("I've got to find Emma a car because that's all she's talked about," David said); to 3 1/2-year-old Charlee, who enjoys watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" on her father's lap.

Andrea will also tell you that her husband "likes to clean," though that is unlikely to trickle down to most athletic department posts, especially after interim AD Laura Herron deservedly drew the loudest applause of the afternoon at Blackburn's packed-house reception inside the University Center.

He also reportedly plays a capable game of golf, which is always a plus for those attempting to convince the rich and powerful to part with at least a small portion of their wealth to help the Mocs.

A singular reason to embrace Blackburn? Try this quote: "I do not want to talk. I want to listen."

A second reason? "We're so new, I'm not even sure where the bathrooms are yet."

But he clearly knows the general direction he wants to point the athletic department, which is almost exactly the same place former AD Rick Hart worked so hard to take it.

"I believe in building winners," Blackburn said. "And that's not necessarily a 20-19 result on the scoreboard. How do you act? Do you get up each day and go to school? How do you generally behave and treat others? We should show up and compete every day in everything that we do."

That he punctuated all of this with a spirited fist pump and a rousing "Go Mocs!" only made it all the better. Especially when he slipped on a navy blue ballcap wih the "Power C" on the front, then added, "A perfect fit."

It certainly seems to be. But is that extra 120 miles of distance between Blackburn and Roger Radel's farm enough to protect all that expensive farm machinery?

Said UTC's new AD with a wry smile: "I don't think they want my help on that farm ever again."

about Mark Wiedmer...

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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