Wake Forest associate athletic director Mike Buddie, one of three finalists for the UTC athletic director job, visited campus Tuesday. To see how the candidates think alike (or differently), the Times Free Press is asking all three finalists the same three questions.
1. What draws you to UTC?
"When you're looking to make the jump to an athletic director, you look at the conference affiliation, you look at the history of success, you look at the region. And it's rare that all three of those get a thumbs up. ... I'm married, been married for 17 years, and I've got a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old, so I'm looking for a place to raise [my] family that's a great community. With Chattanooga you can check that box. ... And certainly any athletic director that gets a chance to come in and make a key hire, with the two basketball positions open, that's like the perfect storm of Athletic Director 101. You get to come in and put your stamp on the program right away."
2. How big of a challenge will it be to come to an athletic department with an operating budget of about $12 million?
"The challenges at UTC are the same challenges that you have anywhere: the balancing of academics and athletics, and that's a delicate, precarious balance, and then, of course, NCAA compliance is always on the [forefront] of everyone's concern in the department. And then there's the financial challenges. Wake Forest has a bigger budget than UTC, but in comparison to the teams we compete against in the ACC, UTC's in a lot better position [versus the rest of the Southern Conference]. They're positioned in a conference [in a way] that they can be competitive, and that's really all you can ask for at the end of the day, is to be able to compete against your peers."
3. What's the biggest challenge or issue in college sports today, especially for mid-majors like UTC?
"It's definitely conference realignment. As you can imagine, that's been a hot topic today. It just brings about anxiety. At the core of collegiate athletics, you're not supposed to be dealing with anxiety and rivalries that have been there for hundreds of years going away. It should be about the competitive landscape and shaping young men and women to move forward and be leaders in life. That anxiety's real and it's palpable, and the role of the athletic director is to be proactive. ... You need to be proactive enough that you've got a Plan B and even a Plan C. Moving just to move isn't always the right thing. Sometimes the best move is no move at all."
- John Frierson
Before he knew he was selected as one of the three finalists for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director job, Mike Buddie and his family spent Good Friday in the Scenic City to make sure it was a place they could call home.
Chattanooga impressed the Buddies, and UTC's search committee was clearly impressed with the Wake Forest associate athletic director. He made the final three and took his official visit to campus Tuesday, meeting with athletics staff, boosters and virtually anyone else interested in the future of UTC sports.
"It's been a great day, and everything that I was expecting has been met or exceeded," said Buddie, who has been working in Wake Forest's athletic department for the past seven years, "so it's certainly been a thrill to have this opportunity to be involved."
Tennessee senior associate athletic director David Blackburn visited Monday, and Lee Fowler, a former AD at Middle Tennessee State and North Carolina State, will visit today. A decision from chancellor-elect Steve Angle and interim chancellor Grady Bogue may come as early as next week.
At 42, Buddie is the youngest of the three finalists. The former major league pitcher for the Yankees and Brewers -- in 87 career games from 1998 to 2002, the right-hander had a record of 5-4 with a 4.67 earned run average -- doesn't have the decades of athletic experience that Blackburn and Fowler possess.
The experience he does have, whether it's pitching at the old Yankee Stadium, raising money or overseeing numerous sports at Wake Forest, is valuable, he said, and can be of use to UTC.
"The experience I have is more than just my experience at Wake Forest," he said.
Fowler and Blackburn are Tennessee natives who have spent significant portions of their lengthy careers in the state. Buddie, from Berea, Ohio, is in the early stages of his career, just as former UTC athletic director Rick Hart was when he was hired in 2006.
When asked if he thought he was the underdog, Buddie looked a little perplexed.
"I hadn't really thought of it until you mentioned it, but I guess I am the underdog," he said, laughing. "The people that are making this decision, they're going to make it based on the right reasons -- and geography and experience, they all play into it.
"It's great to be the underdog to two men like Lee and David, because they've done great things. But I think I've got the ability to do great things, too."