Mike Hamilton's coaching hires as University of Tennessee athletic director played out to mixed reviews. So did reaction to his resignation among the school's biggest Chattanooga-area supporters.
"I may be one of the only ones who is sad today, and I may not be able to run for dogcatcher tomorrow," said Trey White, the owner of Athens Distributing and a former Big Orange Club president. "I just think there have been some unfortunate things that have gone on in the athletic department with some coaches that I don't necessarily think he ought to be held responsible for. I think he is incredibly devoted to his faith and his family, and I know he is devoted to that university."
Hamilton resigned Tuesday after eight years, the first several of which had far more highs than lows. In the 2007-08 academic year, Tennessee came within a whisker of winning the SEC football championship game against LSU, won the SEC men's basketball title with a 14-2 record and claimed an eighth NCAA women's basketball title under Pat Summitt.
The past few years, however, have been marred by the hiring and bolting of football coach Lane Kiffin, four years of baseball futility under Todd Raleigh and former men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl lying to NCAA investigators. Tennessee will go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions this Saturday to address 12 infractions in football and men's basketball, but John Thornton has been upset with Hamilton since his handling of Phillip Fulmer's forced resignation as football coach in November 2008.
Thornton, who in 2006 was ranked by ESPN among the 10 most powerful boosters in college football, did not feel it was appropriate to comment on Hamilton's resignation.
Not everybody associated with Tennessee was moved by the news. Receiver Da'Rick Rogers, a sophomore from Calhoun, Ga., posted on Twitter "we dont have an AD?? lol who really cares."
White, a friend of Hamilton for more than 15 years, believes Tennessee's facilities are now sensational under his guidance. He said fundraising has been stout, and he does not blame Hamilton for Kiffin's quick stay.
"Kiffin took his dream job at USC after a few others passed it up, but the energy in Neyland Stadium and with that university had turned around," he said.
White admits the Raleigh hire didn't produce, but what he can't understand are the personal attacks Hamilton has endured. Hamilton and his wife have five children, three of whom they adopted from Ethiopia.
"People started threatening his wife and kids, wanting them to leave town after the Pearl situation, and I think it just tore him up," White said. "There was one guy in a blog who actually wrote that if Mike Hamilton quit spending so much time adopting kids from around the world and quit worrying about God so much that he might actually run the athletic department better. When people start writing things like that, it's just really sad."
Thornton was in Colorado when he learned of Hamilton's resignation. He has been close for years with Fulmer, who has been speculated as a potential Tennessee AD ever since he was forced out.
There now is a vacancy.
"In my opinion, I don't think Phillip wants to be athletic director," Thornton said. "He is loving being a grandfather."
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