There was a time for much of the 2016-17 school year that University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fans thought the school was going to have to replace David Blackburn.
They ultimately were right, although it wasn't under the circumstances they initially imagined.
Blackburn stepped down Tuesday from his positions as the school's vice chancellor and director of athletics, after four years, to "pursue other interests," according to a school news release.
"We appreciate the time and attention that David has provided our athletic programs," UTC chancellor Dr. Steve Angle said in the release. "The Mocs have reached unprecedented heights over the last four years under David's leadership, and we thank him for his efforts."
UTC will conduct a national search for his replacement, with senior associate athletics director for internal operations Scott Altizer taking over in the interim. Altizer has been with the school for three years.
During Blackburn's time, Mocs programs won 13 regular-season Southern Conference championships and 10 SoCon tournament titles. In the 2015-16 school year, the Mocs won football, men's basketball and women's basketball championships, a first for the school in the same year.
He was hired after more than 20 years involved in University of Tennessee athletics on April 20, 2013, to succeed Rick Hart, who left for a similar position at Southern Methodist University. At the time he was hired, the athletic program was without a basketball coach on either the men's or women's side. Blackburn quickly moved, hiring Will Wade to head the men's program and Jim Foster to coach the women.
Foster has led the women's program to 103 wins and four regular-season SoCon championshipse. Wade laid the groundwork for the turnaround of the men's program, winning 40 games in two seasons before taking the head coaching job at Virginia Commonwealth. He now is the head coach at LSU.
Blackburn replaced Wade with Matt McCall, who guided the Mocs to a 29-win season in 2015-16 and the program's first NCAA tournament trip since 2009 in his first season. He added a 19-win campaign in his second season — one filled with internal turmoil — before taking a job at Massachusetts of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Blackburn also hired John Carroll's Tom Arth, the 2016 NCAA Division III coach of the year, to replace Russ Huesman — who left for Richmond after eight seasons, 59 wins, three conference championships and three Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances — and hired Lamont Paris to filled the slot vacated by McCall.
"The time has come for me to resign as vice chancellor and director of athletics," Blackburn said in the news release. "I love UTC and the city of Chattanooga. I'm grateful for the time allowed to serve this great school and city."
Blackburn also made promising coaching hires in soccer (Gavin McKinney), women's tennis (Chad Camper) and cross country/women's track and field (Andy Meyer). The new AD must find a new leader for the men's tennis program, as longtime coach Carlos Garcia resigned recently.
His ability to make hires, combined with his past connections to the school, made him an attractive candidate for the vacant Tennessee athletic director job in August of 2016 after Dave Hart announced his retirement. Blackburn's name gained a lot of traction from Tennessee fans wanting a "Tennessee guy" to take over, and the process affected Blackburn, who admitted in a May interview that he "didn't handle things well" throughout. He went on radio shows and politicked for the opening, which ultimately went to former Kansas State athletic director John Currie.
In the classroom, student-athletes have posted a 3.0 or higher GPA for seven straight semesters. The Mocs have also been at or near the top of the league each year in attendance in the revenue sports.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.