KNOXVILLE-For all she's accomplished in her 28 years as women's athletic director, Joan Cronan now will play a major role in crucial overall decisions about the University of Tennessee's sports future.
Cronan was named vice chancellor and interim athletic director Thursday as the school prepares to hire a new athletic director and baseball coach in addition to consolidating its separate men's and women's athletic departments.
"It's been a long time, and this is an opportunity to look to the future," Cronan said at a news conference in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. "When I was offered this job, I said why and why not. The why is I love Tennessee; the why is that we're good and I want us to continue. The challenge is the transition; the challenge is we haven't had a great year. But the future is bright. I look forward to having the opportunity to lead this program into the future."
Men's athletic director Mike Hamilton resigned Tuesday and will end his tenure after this weekend's NCAA hearing in Indianapolis.
The consolidation of the men's and women's programs will go into effect in July 2012. Texas was the only other Division I school in the country with separate departments after Arkansas merged its programs in 2007.
"As we looked at going forward," Cronan said, "we looked at some consolidation, and all of you know that we have been doing some consolidation. We looked at efficiency and effectiveness, and this is a way to continue that. This is a way to be part of the solution, not a part of the problem."
Cronan will return to her post as women's athletic director when UT hires the new Volunteers AD, who ultimately will oversee a united department. Once the consolidation is complete, Cronan will be a senior adviser to the vice chancellor and chancellor.
"The economy has been bad, so we've been looking at efficiency and effectiveness and what is the best thing," Cronan said. "We've made lots of moves and lots of good moves, and they've been very, very positive.
"It's just a matter of tweaking the tweaks and making sure we're all on the same page. My job as an athletic director has always been to look at how you make the coaches' job the best it can be, to make the student-athletes' experience the best it can be and to make the university be represented with class. That's what I'm going to continue to do - and continue to do it for both men's and women's athletics.
Cronan took over leadership of women's athletics at UT before the 1983-84 season, and Lady Vols teams have won 10 national titles and 50 combined Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships during her tenure.
"In the transition as women's athletic director," she said, "my job was to be sure the Lady Vols never lost their identity or never lost their voice. I think that has happened in the process, and I think that will continue to happen. I am excited about getting to be an interim athletic director to continue that transition."
Cronan is in charge of hiring the baseball coach, though she'll have the help of a search committee.
"That's one of the first things on my agenda," she said. "We're well into that structure and we'll hopefully move pretty quickly. There's a lot of people that are going to help me through this interim."
Cronan, chancellor Jimmy Cheek and other university administration, faculty and staff representatives will handle the AD search. Cheek said Tuesday he hopes to have the national search completed and a hiring made by the time football season begins in September.
"We're going to be shocked at how many quality candidates [there are]," Cronan said. "I don't think sometimes internally we realize how special Tennessee is. There are going to be a lot of athletic directors that are interested in being here and wearing the orange, internally and externally.
"There are so many different ingredients of an athletic director, and there's so many different models. What I want to do is find the right person, he or she, for Tennessee that's going to lead this program into the future. That's what I'm looking for - is that opportunity to bring stability and go forward, because we've got the groundwork, we've got the foundation. We just need to go forward."