David Blackburn shook hands and greeted about 100 employees and boosters of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after being introduced Tuesday as the new athletic director.
Then he immediately began addressing the two most immediate issues facing UTC sports -- finding new coaches to lead the men's and women's basketball teams -- by meeting with the Lady Mocs and then the Mocs players and remaining staffs.
"I'll begin by looking in their eyes and hearing from them," Blackburn said before the scheduled meetings. "I thought that was important because finals end soon, and I didn't want them leaving campus without hearing, at least, 'It will be OK and we'll get this resolved real soon.'"
"I want to answer any questions they have. I thought it's important to do this."
Blackburn knew during the search and interview processes that the new AD would be the person making the decision. Incoming chancellor Steve Angle said he hired Blackburn to make such decisions and lead the department he called "the front door of our university."
But Laura Herron, who had been the interim AD since Rick Hart left in August for Southern Methodist University, had been collecting resumes and applications for both positions.
Herron dropped the files of candidates on Blackburn's new desk Tuesday after lunch.
"They don't fit into the folder, and the men's file is twice as high because of the length of time it's been open, and we have not advertised either position," Herron said. "These are people who know about it and want to get ahead of it.
"We had 47 for the men and 23 for the ladies, but those came directly to me. He's received calls and applications, too. We expect an avalanche of more."
Blackburn said he's not surprised about the interest in the positions, because of the long history of success with both teams.
"I can tell you there is extreme interest," he said. "I've had calls from very many, many, many outstanding candidates. We haven't had a chance to go through any of that file, but we will first thing tomorrow morning."
Despite having some fans bring up his name, former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has not sent his application to Blackburn, with whom he worked in Knoxville.
"I've talked to Bruce -- he's a friend of mine -- and Bruce is not interested in this job," Blackburn said. "Bruce is certainly a resource in a number of areas of basketball. We've not had lengthy conversation, but he called and congratulated me and said, 'If you want to have any conversations, feel free to call me.'"
Blackburn laid out a general guideline describing the coaches he would like to run two of UTC's higher-profile sports.
"I want people who will operate these programs with extreme integrity and be competitive," Blackburn said. "They do not necessarily have to have previous head coaching experience. I want someone who can teach and has a system and recruits to a system and runs a system. So many coaches grab from here and there, and that's not the way to go. I want coaches who have a system and will recruit to that system."
Hiring the women's basketball coach may have an added element.
Women's golf coach Colette Murray is the only female directing one of UTC's sports. Blackburn said it wasn't something he noticed until Herron brought it up, but he's not restricting applicants from either gender.
"I think it's important to first get the right coach regardless," Blackburn said. "But I do think it's important to pay close attention to gender equity, as well as working with the [Black Coaches Association] and getting a strong pool of minority candidates.
"Trumping all is having the right person."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...