KNOXVILLE - With most of his staff, a handful of local media and a throng of television cameras looking on inside Neyland Stadium's media center, an embattled Mike Hamilton took a seat in front of a microphone.
The University of Tennessee men's athletic director then announced his resignation at a Tuesday morning news conference amid the weight of two tumultuous years and an NCAA investigation, multiple coaching changes and persistent public criticism. He served in the job eight years.
"I've been on an interesting journey over the last two years of my life, both personally and professionally," Hamilton said. "Personally, the growth and 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 the things that have led to some of these challenges. Ultimately, I think today was inevitable based upon today's operating environment in college athletics."
In addition to overseeing the renovations of Neyland and Lindsey Nelson stadiums and the internal improvement of Thompson-Boling Arena, Hamilton helped UT become one of just a handful of schools nationally to turn a financial profit despite relying solely on private funding for athletics.
But his failed coaching hires and the 26-month ongoing investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association into the football and men's basketball programs - the Volunteers' two most important sports - brought enough negative sentiment toward Hamilton that he said he felt it was time to go.
"The last several years at UT have been marked by turmoil, fractures and the development of camps," he said. "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, and that's a major distraction for the many positive things that are going on in athletics and on our campus."
Hamilton said he approached UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek at last week's Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Florida about tendering his resignation.
"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. When he brought the decision to me, I supported his decision. He was not forced out. I did not try to talk him out of his decision."
Hamilton will continue active service until Monday before going on administrative leave until June 30. He will receive a total of $1.335 million in 36 equal monthly installments, as well as eight lifetime tickets to football and men's basketball games.
"I will always be grateful for the opportunity Mike gave me to be the head football coach at Tennessee," Derek Dooley, whom Hamilton hired in January 2010, said in a statement. "The tremendous support he provided our staff and program has allowed us to set a strong foundation for the future of Tennessee football."
Hamilton fired five coaches during his tenure, most notably former football coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008 and former basketball coach Bruce Pearl in March. He hired Lane Kiffin, who left the football Vols for Southern Cal after one controversial season, and Todd Raleigh, who didn't take UT's baseball team to an SEC tournament in his four-year stint and was fired last month.
A series of violations by Kiffin and Pearl, who also led the Vols to a school-record six consecutive NCAA tournaments, landed UT in the crosshairs of the organization. On Saturday, Hamilton, along with officials from the NCAA and UT, will head to Indianapolis for a hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions.
"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."
Once the NCAA hearing is completed, UT will turn its attention to hiring a baseball coach and an athletic director. A search committee and the interim athletic director that Cheek said he hopes to name "in the coming days" will handle hiring a baseball coach.
Cheek said he'll form a search committee to hire the new athletic director, though he will make the final decision. He hopes to have that hire done by the time football season begins in September.
"We will begin a national search for a new athletic director immediately," he said. "This is a great program; we have a great university; we have great academics; we have great athletics. This is certainly a position we can attract very talented people to."
School officials "want somebody to come in and build on the strong foundation that currently exists," Cheek said. "We also need stability. 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."
Hamilton came to UT in 1992 as an assistant athletic director for development and took over as athletic director for Doug Dickey in 2003. He and his wife, Beth, have adopted three of their five children and raised nearly $900,000 for local adoption agencies and charitable work in Africa.
"Serving as the athletic director at the University of Tennessee over the last eight years," he said, "has been an incredible daily leadership lesson and a dream come true that I could never and would never trade for anything."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.