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The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's final three candidates for the athletic director position include two Tennessee natives and a member of the New York Yankees' 1998 World Series championship team.
The finalists, search committee chair Debbie Ingram announced Thursday, are former North Carolina State and Middle Tennessee State athletic director Lee Fowler, UT senior associate athletic director for administration David Blackburn and Mike Buddie, currently the associate AD for administration/development at Wake Forest.
"Our committee includes representatives from the campus and the community, so many voices have been represented in this process," Ingram said in a statement released by UTC. "I believe the high caliber of candidates who applied for this job is a testament to the strength of our university and athletics programs."
Fowler, from Columbia, Tenn., was MTSU's athletic director from 1994 to 2000, during the time when the football program moved up from then-Division I-AA to I-A. While at MTSU he also began a long run on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee.
N.C. State hired him in 2000 and he ran Wolfpack athletics until he was asked to resign in 2010. A Vanderbilt basketball player in the early 1970s, Fowler chaired the Division I Men's Basketball Committee in 2002 and now is the director of basketball operations for the Sun Belt Conference.
Blackburn, a Loudon native, graduated from Tennessee in 1990 and beginning in 1993 worked in a series of non-coaching roles for former Volunteers football coach Phillip Fulmer. Blackburn moved in 2003 to a development position in the athletic department.
Among his numerous responsibilities in his current position are overseeing the football program's operations and budget.
Blackburn got some support on Twitter from former Baylor School and Tennessee offensive lineman Jacques McClendon, now with the Atlanta Falcons. He tweeted: "UTC needs to do the right thing and hire David Blackburn as Athletic Director. Not a better or more qualified person for the job."
Buddie is in his seventh year at Wake Forest, where he was a standout pitcher who was drafted by the Yankees in 1992. After several years in the minor leagues he spent five seasons in the majors, playing for the Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers.
At Wake Forest, he oversees several sports and helps the Demon Deacons' fundraising.
All three candidates have significant experience in fundraising, which will be critical as UTC begins raising money for new facilities. Among the planned projects are a football building, a track and soccer field and a new tennis facility.
The first order of business for the new AD will be filling the vacant men's and women's basketball coach positions. John Shulman was let go as the men's coach in March, and last Friday women's coach Wes Moore was hired by Fowler's former employer, N.C. State. It was Fowler, in 2010, who hired former UTC assistant Kellie Harper over Moore to coach the Wolfpack women.
The AD search committee last weekend interviewed 10 finalists and came up with its top three. Next week, interim chancellor Grady Bogue and chancellor-elect Steve Angle will interview all three on campus, Bogue said Monday.
Laura Herron has served as the interim athletic director since Rick Hart left UTC in July after six years to take over the athletic department at SMU. UTC senior associate athletic director Matt Pope was among the candidates for the position.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.