Wiedmer: Blackburn's plate already full at UTC

Wiedmer: Blackburn's plate already full at UTC

April 22nd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC Mocs logo

Welcome aboard, David Blackburn. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga made a safe and sound hire when it chose you to become its next athletic director over the weekend.

Now the bad news. Your need-it-done-yesterday to-do list is as long as the football Mocs' absence from the playoffs (28 years and counting).

As you're no doubt aware, UTC is currently without both a men's and women's basketball coach. Your new staff has been unfairly stressed out for more than nine months worrying about its job future. Your budget -- like those of most athletic departments at the FCS level -- is tighter than a Kate Upton bikini. And your chancellor, hired just six weeks ago, apparently won't spend much time in the Scenic City until July 1.

Too bad you can't ease into your job with similar ease and comfort.

But to help you prioritize, please allow a 30-year resident of this community to hand you a six-point plan (one for every UTC AD hire I've covered, including you) to guide you through your first month on the job.

1) Men's basketball. And we'll place the men's job in front of the women's opening mostly because the men's program is in much worse shape.

If you want to inject instant excitement into McKenzie Arena, go after Virginia Commonwealth assistants Mike Rhoades (first) and Will Wade (if Rhoades says no). The Rams may play the most entertaining ball in the country these days, an attack filled with lots of 3-pointers and full-court pressure defense. Rhoades is reportedly already making $200,000 annually (which may put him out of reach), but Wade's a Tennessee native, which means this might be the perfect place for him to begin what could become a dazzling career.

And though encouraging coaches to keep staff holdovers doesn't always work, interim coach Casey Long deserves to remain. He's young, smart and hungry and he quarterbacked the Mocs' last top-notch team in 2005.

2) Lady Mocs. Your search to replace the largely irreplaceable Wes Moore should begin and end with current UT Lady Vols assistant Kyra Elzy. She might be holding out for a bigger gig and, if so, you can't blame her. But Elzy didn't just star for Pat Summitt, she played a huge role in building the Kentucky program into a Top Ten power under head coach Matthew Mitchell. Make her say no before anyone else says yes.

3) Your new staff. Through a perfect storm of retirements, defections and dismissals, your department has been twisting in the wind for far too long. That said, interim AD Laura Herron has done a remarkable job, so much so that if your stay isn't a long one, she should be at the top of the list of those considered to follow you.

Beyond that, senior associate AD Matt Pope has spent the past 12 years perfectly executing every small and large task thrown his way. He deserves to remain at the school in some capacity, where his experience and professionalism would always be an asset.

4) Mack McCarthy. The search committee oddly decided not to so much as interview the former UTC basketball coach for the AD position, but you should meet with him for two very important reasons. First, at least a few influential boosters were supporting McCarthy and you don't need anyone with money to feel badly about the program right now. Second, the guy's high-beam bright, and overflowing with ideas to help your department. Meet with him. Listen to him. Borrow from him. UTC athletics will be the better for it.

5) Spend as many of your first 100 days on the job as possible schmoozing with boosters, donors and potential boosters and donors. Herron can flawlessly handle the day-to-day stuff. You need money. And you need to quickly impress all those who have it to give some to the Mocs.

6) If you get a chance, encourage your new boss, Dr. Steven Angle, to accompany you on your booster begs whenever possible. No, he doesn't officially start until July, but a lot of us are hoping to see him around here on a regular basis long before then. He was missed at both the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament and the women's NCAA tourney appearance. Maybe he could even accompany you to the Porky's Open fundraiser on May 7, just to let the old guard shake the hands of UTC's new blood.

It's too much, of course. Quite possibly daunting, dizzying and disconcerting all at once. It makes for a shorter honeymoon period than if you'd married a Kardashian.

But only the basketball hires require immediate attention. Which brings us to repeat the immortal words of the greatest college basketball coach ever -- John Wooden.

"Be quick," said the Wizard of Westwood. "But don't hurry."

But, please, please be quick.

Email Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.