The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga named Steve Angle its chancellor on March 1, 2013. Though he did not formally start until July, Angle immediately faced a monumental personnel decision:
Who would replace Rick Hart as UTC's athletic director?
With Hart departed for Southern Methodist University and both the men's and women's basketball coaching jobs vacant, it was a critical time of transition for UTC.
In advance of his State of the University address to be given Wednesday and to recognize a year since his hiring, the Times Free Press met with Angle last week and discussed his vision for the university. Included was his assessment of the athletic department and how it has performed with David Blackburn in charge.
TFP: What are your thoughts on the status of the athletic department?
SA: "I think [the student-athletes] are doing a great job off the court, off the field, off the mat as well as competing in their fields. Wrestling is a traditional area of strength for us, and they're doing well. Football was a real delight to see the success this year. Our head coach, Russ Huesman, he's worked very hard to take a program that was struggling academically and in competition and set them up at the top of both of those. He holds very high standards and holds his players accountable, as all of our coaches do. To have a former player and student enjoying that success here is pretty special for the campus, the community and for our alumni to see one of our own who came back home and is a success."
TFP: What about basketball?
SA: "In basketball, [women's coach] Jim Foster is a rock star. We got him here because Wes Moore, his predecessor in women's basketball, did an incredible job and established a tradition of excellence and he was recruiting the top students to UTC. To a person looking around like Jim Foster, UTC was very attractive and we were able to recruit him here, and we were able to build on that foundation of excellence and quality.
"Him coming helped us seal the deal with an up-and-comer in [men's basketball coach] Will Wade, who I think demands a lot from his players but even more from himself. This is a rebuilding year, and the success of men's basketball is just so far above any of the expectations that I had for that team when we started. They're really jelling as a team. They're fun to watch; they've won a lot of games and been really competitive. But there's an energy there and a spark that needs to happen in everything that we do, whether it's teaching in the classroom, athletics or volunteering in the community."
TFP: Z. Mason is fun to watch, isn't he?
SA: "He's my son's and daughter's favorite player. His high school came to the last game and they all wore shirts with 'Z' on them on one end of the arena, and it was really fun to see because he's a hard worker and has done well and is very successful.
"That's a team of people working together. Athletics has done very well and is a front door to our campus. Many people in the community first start looking at UTC through, 'Oh, there's these athletic programs, maybe I'll go to a game or do this or that.' That's a way to get people engaged and look at the difference that this university makes in the lives of our students."
TFP: What do you think about going to the next level athletically? Are there aspirations of becoming a Football Bowl Subdivision program?
SA: "I think right now we're really happy with where we are. The SoCon has been great for us. We compete very well. We don't have the resources right now to compete at that level. Knoxville, the size they are helps support all those activities. Athletics are important, they're a front door to our community and we're playing to win, so we're going to strive to be competitive, to offer scholarships and support to our student-athletes to recruit and retain the best coaches. But at some level if a coach has an offer for $1 million or $2 million a year, that's not a level we're going to be able to play at right now.
"Let's see how we pack Finley Stadium this fall. We've got a great class of recruits and a great group of coaches, and they will be real competitive and play some exciting games there. We need our community to turn out. Basketball, we need to be packing McKenzie Arena. There are so many other neat options with volleyball, wrestling, softball. There's a lot of options. Soccer -- it's free to go for women's soccer, and those are fun games. I think right now we're probably at the right level for the size of our school."
TFP: What do you think of the job athletic director David Blackburn has done?
SA: "David Blackburn is doing an incredible job. He and I work really well together, and we're delighted he's here. Boy, has that been a good hire.
"You hire someone to empower them and trust their judgment, and David's got good judgment. In the end, he really believes in people. He's got very high standards ethically and integrity-wise and is someone who is just a really good fit with UTC and with Chattanooga."