KNOXVILLE - The weight had become too much on Mike Hamilton's shoulders.
The University of Tennessee men's athletic director announced his resignation today after eight years at UT, including a tumultuous two-year stretch that saw coaching changes in each of the school's three biggest men's sports and a lengthy NCAA investigation.
"I've been on an interesting journey over the last two years of my life both personally and professionally," Hamilton said. "The growth and the transformation of my family and my faith have been humbling, life-changing, impactful and eternal.
"I've never experienced more challenge or frustration in my 26 years of professional life than during the last 18 months. I accept the responsibility for some of the things that have led to some of these challenges."
Hamilton fired former football coach Philip Fulmer in 2008 and hired Lane Kiffin, who left after just one season for Southern Cal. Hamilton's best hire, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl, lied to NCAA investigators last year and was fired after this past season. Hamilton also fired two baseball coaches, including Todd Raleigh, his choice to replace Rod Delmonico in 2007.
Hamilton said he approached UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek at last week's Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin about tendering his resignation.
"Ultimately" Hamilton said, "I think today was inevitable based upon today's operating environment in college athletics. The last several years at UT have been marked by turmoil, fractures and the development of camps. This is not healthy, nor is it productive for our university. During the last three months, in particular, I myself have become a lightning rod for negative attention."
"I am sorry to see Mike Hamilton leave," Cheek said. "He's doing what he believes is the best thing for him, his family and the University of Tennessee. I supported his decision.
"He was not forced out."
UT was set for a hearing with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions this weekend in Indianapolis for 12 major violations against the men's basketball and football programs, Pearl and Kiffin. Hamilton will attend that meeting and remain in his position until June 30.
"This is something I've been contemplating over the last several months as a possibility," Hamilton said. "As I reflected on it and visited with folks who I respect and seek counsel from, I talked about it being this week so that we could go into the Committee on Infractions with a clean slate."
UT will pay Hamilton a total sum of $1,335,000 in 36 equal monthly installments through June 2014.
Cheek said UT will name an interim athletic director by the end of the week and begin a national search he hopes can be concluded by the beginning of football season. Cheek added that UT will have a search committee, though he will ultimately have the final decision.
"This is a great program," Cheek said. "We have a great university, we have great academics (and) we have great athletics, so this is certainly a position we can attract very talented people to. We need to stabilize our leadership team and move ourselves aggressively forward in the directions we want to go, which means we're going to be a better place in the future than we are today."
"I want peace for the University of Tennessee," Hamilton said. "This is too great a place to not have that peace, and I realize the environment that we operate in today engenders that kind of thing because you've got to stir the pot.
"But I don't think it's healthy, and so that really led to me saying, 'You know, I don't need to hamper the University of Tennessee from achieving what we can achieve,' because good things are on the horizon. We're positioned for success. We have been in a period of turmoil that needs to end, and if I could help end that turmoil by stepping aside, I thought that was important."
More coverage online, on Twitter and in Wednesday's Times Free Press.
Mark Wiedmer: UT's NCAA troubles linger too long to protect Hamilton
Mike Hamilton uttered the words a week ago in Destin, Fla.
Speaking to the media during the SEC's spring meetings, the man who will now be known as the University of Tennessee's FORMER men's athletic director said of the school's upcoming meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions, "One of the things we've talked about with the NCAA folks is the lengths of these (investigations). During the course of that you take public hits and questions about things that maybe people speculate on."
At least Hamilton won't have to take the hits past today and tomorrow. The speculation is over. Hamilton is out as UT's men's AD, his full years on the job apparently done in by a series of questionable hires in the Vols' high-profile sports and serious NCAA troubles in men's basketball and, perhaps, football.
So despite UT being scheduled to meet with the infractions committee on Friday at the NCAA's headquarters in Indianapolis, Hamilton is done, his possible legacy of being one of the greatest fundraisers in college athletics history undermined by inability to judge coaching talent, police coaching talent or both.
Safe to say that if UT power brokers forced this action at this time, they have at least some concern over landing a "lack of institutional control" tag from the NCAA.
If nothing else, they must believe that distancing themselves from everyone involved in the charges - former football coach Lane Kiffin and most of his staff moved on to Southern Cal, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl was fired for lying to the NCAA, albeit somewhat belatedly by Hamilton, and now the AD's gone, too - will serve them well during their day in court.
Maybe the Big Orange brass is wrong, and maybe it's right, but either way it's clearly concerned enough to believe that even a grandstanding move such as this - really, three days before the hearing? - will do more good than harm.
The sad thing is, Hamilton's a good man whose grand plan to deliver UT athletics the finest physical plant in the country will largely be unappreciated by the school's fan base because a couple of rogue coaches didn't properly appreciate the opportunity he gave them.
Kiffin wasted almost no time turning the entire SEC against him with his braggert's mouth and punk's insolence. Pearl became an even worse role model over time, asking 17-year-old kids to lie to the NCAA for him - truly shocking behavior for a former NCAA whistleblower.
And because Hamilton defiantly stood by Pearl when such bad behavior first came to light, he has now met the same fate as the coach he once stubbornly defended.
So while it's heartwarming and admirable to know that Hamilton and his wife have five adopted children - three of them from Ethiopia - and that he recently chaired the United Way campaign in Knoxville, if you believe you're known by the company you keep, then Hamilton earned this fate.
Buildings are nice, but they don't stay filled if you don't hire the right coaches to work in them.
Still, of the three men at the center of the Vols' NCAA troubles - Kiffin, Pearl and Hamilton - it's hard to argue that the nicest was finished last.
E-mail Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org