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David Blackburn, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics for The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, stands in McKenzie Arena where his office is located.
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UTC vice chancellor and athletic director David Blackburn has a target of a 10 percent increase in the department's revenues and budget in the next few years.

What if the University of Tennessee's gain is about to become the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's loss regarding athletic directors?

What if the Big Brother Big Orange does what it should and hires current UTC athletic director David Blackburn to run the program that UT's Dave Hart announced he was retiring from effective June 30, 2017?

After all, Blackburn worked in Tennessee's athletic department in one capacity or another for more than 20 years. He was there for the football team's glory days in the 1990s, as well as the late Lady Vols legend Pat Head Summitt's eight NCAA titles in women's baskeball.

He likewise deserves at least partial credit, along with former UTC AD Rick Hart _ who also just happens to be Dave's son _ and Mocs football coach Russ Huesman (who was hired by Hart) for the sustained rise of UTC football in recent years, including sharing or winning outright the Southern Conference title the past three seasons.

More than that, look at Blackburn's three basketball coaching hires _ Will Wade and current coach Matt McCall for the UTC men and Hall of Famer Jim Foster on the women's side _ and try to explain why that doesn't scream of someone ready to succeed at his profession's highest level, which is basically any Southeastern Conference school, but especially one as storied as the Tennessee program.

This isn't to say Hart hasn't had his successes. In fact, corralling Butch Jones from Cincinnati at the close of the 2012 season might be one of the best hires in the history of the program excepting General Robert Neyland and Summitt.

Yes, Jones still has to finish the deal and Hart detractors might rightly point out that embattled Texas coach Charlie Strong was the retiring AD's first choice, though he did ultimately choose Jones and only the grumpiest and least patient of Vols fan would argue that Butchie Boy hasn't been a fine choice to this point.

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Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart listens to questions during a press conference at University of Tennessee's Ray & Lucy Hand Digital Studio in Knoxville, Tenn., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. Hart stood by his embattled football coach during the news conference Thursday at the university, two weeks after a federal lawsuit was filed Feb. 9 in Nashville alleging that Tennessee mishandles assault complaints against athletes. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

There's also — as was pointed out in Thursday morning's official UT press release — the much-needed academic improvement by all Vol athletes under Hart's watch.

As he enters his sixth and final season running the program, Hart should be highly praised for, as similarly retiring UTK chancellor Jimmy Cheek noted, "making UT a student-athlete-focused department. His drive for comprehensive excellence has touched all facets of athletics. Our student athletes have the highest overall grade point average in the history of the program, exceeding a 3.0 and fundraising is having a record year. He has restructured the department for greater efficiency and created a long-term sustainable financial model."

Of course, that restructuring of the department is also Hart's greatest public relations failure, since his original goal to rid the department of any and all ties to "Lady Vols" wrongly and needlessly threatened to end the reign of the school's most admirable and successful athletic team _ the Lady Vols basketball program.

And given that all this was happening as Summitt was fighting her brave, futile fight to defeat Alzheimer's, it seemed doubly tone-deaf.

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UTC defensive back Lucas Webb (29) breaks away for a touchdown after intercepting the ball in the first half of the Mocs' FCS playoff football game against Fordham at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Merge the departments for economics reason, tout "One Tennessee" all you want, but leave the moniker Lady Vols alone. Puh-leeze! And the fact that he chose not to has caused much unnecessary bitterness and division within the Big Orange family.

Yet whether or not that's his most egregious error in judgement depends on how you view his handling of men's basketball, which should have been his strength, since he played the sport at Alabama under the ultimate hoops role model in C.M. Newton.

Certainly Hart leaves men's hoops in excellent shape by having hired Rick Barnes. But his clumsy, if not downright cold relationship with Cuonzo Martin cost the school a solid coach and outstanding human being and opened the door for one of the most disastrous hires in school history _ Donnie Tyndall, who could apparently avoid breathing more easily than he could avoid breaking NCAA rules.

Those close to Hart say he mistakenly relied on advice from old friends who told him Tyndall had learned from his previous NCAA violations at Morehead State, that he'd cleaned up his act at Southern Miss and was worth the risk.

Though there's no denying Tyndall can coach, a school that was still somewhat mired in Bruce Pearl's NCAA issues didn't need to tempt fate with Tyndall, whose buckets of broken rules at Southern Miss forced Hart to fire him after a mere 339 days.

Given all that, it would seem Hart's supporters can argue the UT athletic department glass is half full and his detractors can equally argue it's half empty, though it would hard for anyone to argue Hart's tenure was anywhere close to a total success.

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Tennessee fans cheer as the Vols score a touchdown during their SEC football game against Georgia at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Knoxville. Tennessee won 38-31.

Which brings us back to Blackburn. Current Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart — another former UT assistant AD — is sure to find some traction, given the rise of the school's non-revenue programs under his watch. He shouldn't. While Rich Brooks was a great football hire, Joker Phillips and Mark Stoops have pretty much been disasters.

Beyond that, though Barnhart officially hired basketball coach John Calipari, he also hired his predecessor Billy Gillispie. And just to be clear, Coach Cal was basically out of Barnhart's hands. For proof, merely find a video of Cal's opening press conference, when Barnhart and former school president Lee Todd both looked like they'd bitten into a lemon.

There will also be talk of Fulmer, as perhaps there should be. But he's 65 now, probably doesn't need the money or the headaches, and likely still has a few enemies among those boosters who helped get him fired in 2008.

Because of that, Blackburn looks like the perfect choice to heal old wounds, bring fresh ideas and return the Vols to the glory they enjoyed when he was employed there in the 1990s, when football and women's basketball were king and queen of college athletics and the biggest problem the Big Orange Nation had was finding available tickets to watch them play.

As for UTC, given his longtime ties to money in this area, the Mocs could probably do worse than hand Blackburn's keys and a five-year contract to Fulmer, at least as long as he and Blackburn agree to ink UT-UTC contracts in football, men's and women's basketball for the forseeable future. It's the least UT could do for taking the Mocs' AD.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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