Using search firm in athletic director quest will cost Tennessee $75,000

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart announces his retirement, effective June 2017, this past Thursday in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's decision to use a search firm to assist in its search for a new athletic director is coming with a hefty price tag.

The university will pay Turnkey Sports and Entertainment $75,000 plus other expenses, according to a purchase order and other documents obtained Monday by the Times Free Press, after selecting the New Jersey-based firm over three other bidders.

Those other expenses, including costs for travel, advertising and accommodations for candidates, will be invoiced separately to Tennessee to be reimbursed at actual cost, according to the purchase order.

Tennessee chose Turnkey over bids from Collegiate Sports Associates, Parker Executive Search and DHR International.

Gene DeFilippo, a former athletic director at Boston College and Villanova, has been assigned the search, and he is contractually prohibited from commencing an AD search for any other Power Five conference schools.

If Turnkey's choice is terminated by Tennessee within his first 12 months on the job due to willful misconduct or gross negligence in the role or the person is deemed unfit to be the athletic director based on the position description, the firm will conduct the search for a replacement at no additional fee, according to the purchase order.

Turnkey's recently conducted high-profile searches for athletic directors at Minnesota, Michigan and Georgia Tech.

DeFilippo, who earned his master's degree at Tennessee, is a longtime friend of former Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer, who perhaps is the top candidate to replacement the outgoing Dave Hart.

In addition to the search firm, Tennessee formed a six-member search committee to help new chancellor Beverly Davenport, who officially assumes her post in Knoxville on Feb. 15, find the replacement to Hart, who announced his retirement in August and is under contract through the end of June.

The committee includes former Tennessee and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, senior associate athletic director Donna Thomas, trustee Charlie Anderson, Pilot Flying J CEO and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and professor Donald Bruce, UT's faculty representative to the SEC and NCAA.

Raja Jabran, the vice chairman of UT's board of trustees, will head the search committee.

The $112,000 bid from DHR, which conducted the AD searches at Purdue, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Vermont within the past year, was the highest among the firms Tennessee considered.

CSA's bid was for $75,500, and Parker's was for $70,000 provided the new AD's salary was higher than $250,000.

Tennessee recently used CSA in the process of hiring men's basketball coach Rick Barnes, and within the past 12 months the firm - led by former Connecticut, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Washington athletic director Todd Turner - was involved in AD searches at Missouri, San Diego State, Northern Iowa, Furman and Winthrop.

Parker was involved in Tennessee's hiring of Hart, former football coach Derek Dooley, former men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and current baseball coach Dave Serrano, and its relationship with the university extends beyond athletics and the Knoxville campus. UT-Chattanooga used Parker to land new football coach Tom Arth and chancellor Steve Angle, and the firm was involved in the hirings of chancellors across the state, from Davenport and her predecessor, Jimmy Cheek, in Knoxville to Steve Schwab at UT's Health Science Center in Memphis.

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