Mark Wiedmer: David Blackburn puts hirings before office unpacking

photo University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn speaks with soccer players during a reception Tuesday at UTC.

Having reached his one-week milestone as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's new athletic director, David Blackburn has yet to open so much as one of the moving boxes sitting on the floor of his McKenzie Arena office.

"I've been spending most of my time on our two basketball openings," Blackburn said Tuesday afternoon. "We have to find both a men's and women's coach who will not only be extremely competitive on the court but will run the program with the utmost integrity."

Asked when the Mocs Nation might realistically expect to learn who'll be leading their men's and women's teams into a renovated McKenzie next season, the AD replied, "Hopefully in two, maybe two and a half weeks."

To that end, Blackburn is working on both hires at the same time with considerable input from former Vanderbilt AD Todd Turner's search firm: Collegiate Sports Associates.

"We didn't want to put one in front of the other," Blackburn said. "They're both equally important."

They also are equally coveted. Though Blackburn preferred not to put an exact number on the applications to date -- CSA is now handling the resumes -- he did say, "It's a bunch. There's extreme interest in both in both quality and quantity."

It would be a daunting task for the most experienced AD. Blackburn is entering his eighth day on the job.

"I don't know that I've ever heard of a brand-new [AD] hire having to fill both positions," he said. "And if you had to pick how you'd like to start this job, you'd probably prefer to assess the entire department, learn the day-to-day operations and become acquainted with your personnel before making two major decisions."

Yet the 47-year-old Blackburn isn't complaining. After working in various posts within the University of Tennessee athletic department in Knoxville for the past 20 years, he's more than ready to make the tough calls.

"I'm confident we'll make the right hires," he said. "I think we have two very attractive openings. At the end of the day, we all just want two successful programs run properly."

Befitting a father of two, Blackburn compared the process of making such hires to becoming a first-time parent.

"You think you're ready," he said. "Then the child's born and the responsibility is great and it's real."

That natural nervousness may also explain his embrace of Turner's search committee, a tool he normally would avoid.

"I'd usually rather conduct a search internally," Blackburn said. "But in this case, given the situation, I'm actually thankful to have their guidance."

He is not guided to favor one style of play over another, however, concerned that a deliberate defensive coach might not excite the fans as much as a fast and furious offensive one.

"All styles work if you win," he said.

Down the road it will be easier. Blackburn will be able to hold his own with the area's rich and powerful on a golf course thanks to a 10 handicap that's delivered at least one round of 82 at The Honors Course.

He can entertain the Mocs Nation with tales of his struggles to do more good than harm on his father-in-law's farm and recall all those years in Knoxville working with everyone from former UT football coach Phillip Fulmer to former basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

But for the next two to three weeks it's all about hiring two basketball coaches.

Well, almost all.

"I was told not to come home last week until I got a bunch of UTC stuff for my wife and kids to wear," Blackburn said. "So last Friday I went to the bookstore and bought all the shirts and hats I could find, anything that was blue and gold and had a big 'C' on it."

And did the new AD get a discount?

"No, but maybe I should have asked for one," he said with a laugh.

If his basketball hires prove to be winning ones, Blackburn might be given his next round of UTC gear for free.

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