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Tom Arth

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In David Blackburn we trust.

Doesn't that have to be the mantra of every University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sports fan regarding the school's fourth-year athletic director? And if not, shouldn't it be?

We ask this as Blackburn prepares to introduce the largely unknown Tom Arth — late of John Carroll University — as the Mocs' new football coach today.

If Arth's a familiar name in your house you're likely either a relative, a JCU grad or some sort of savant regarding former backup quarterbacks in the National Football League.

But that doesn't mean the whole world won't one day know of him. After all, how many folks other than college basketball junkies knew of Will Wade when Blackburn hired him? Furthermore, how many knew of Matt McCall when Wade left UTC for the head coach's job at Virginia Commonwealth and Blackburn plucked McCall from relative obscurity as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida?

So for all those wondering if Arth — who both starred at John Carroll as a quarterback, then coached the Blue Streaks to this year's Division III semifinal round — is in for a bit of a learning curve concerning recruiting (Division III doesn't offer athletic scholarships), the passion of Southern football in general and the competitiveness of the Southern Conference in particular, stop your worrying. Be happy. Blackburn's got this handled.

How can I be so sure, you ask?

Anyone who's ever heard Blackburn discuss his methods for hiring a coach knows he does his homework. He makes lots of phone calls. He asks really good questions. He thinks outside of the box, which is a good thing in all hires but an especially helpful trait when working on a tight budget while competing against schools with much larger war chests.

Then there's Blackburn's own reputation to consider. He might indeed become the new athletic director just up the road at Tennessee before the ink dries on this newsprint. And should that happen, one might reasonably ask if Arth was really the best the Mocs could do.

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Two points to consider here: One, there are still those in Knoxville who insist Blackburn has not yet locked up that job. Two, even if that's the case, Chattanooga always will be special to him because UTC gave him the break he needed to one day return to the Vols as head of the athletic department. The last thing he wants to do is be remembered as the AD who buried the Mocs program with a bad hire.

Does Arth bring risks? Perhaps. Almost every college football coach except Nick Saban brings risks. Given Arth's deep ties to John Carroll and the fact that he's spent the vast majority of his life in the Cleveland, Ohio, area, life in the Mid-South could bring a period of adjustment for him, his wife and their five children.

But he seems to have this football thing down pat, from his time as Peyton Manning's backup with the Indianapolis Colts to all the assistant positions he's had at JCU — from director of football operations to quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator to head coach. And don't let that recruiting stuff fool you. D-IIIs recruit as much as anyone. They just have to be more creative by offering academic rides or need-based assistance to prospective athletes. In some ways, D-III might even be tougher because of the lack of athletic scholarships.

Nor is John Carroll an ordinary D-III program. Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula is a loyal enough alum to have contributed to the building of the school's Don Shula Stadium. Current New England Patriots offensive coordinator and former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is also an alum.

Given all that, Arth clearly has earned this chance, and should he succeed here, he'll likely take his handsome mug and move up the ladder, which isn't the worst thing that could happen.

In fact, in some ways he sounds like a D-III version of Stephen Orr Spurrier. Just as Spurrier is the only person to win the Heisman Trophy and coach a team (Florida, 1996) to a national championship, Arth was a gifted enough quarterback at JCU to be named to the D3Football.com's all-decade team after setting 18 John Carroll offensive records.

Then, after the Blue Streaks stopped Mount Union's 112-game regular-season winning streak this season to capture the Ohio Athletic Conference crown, Arth was named D3Football.com's coach of the year.

There's also his passion to consider, especially in light of former UTC coach Russ Huesman's fear that he was growing stale coaching his alma mater.

On the afternoon that JCU went on the road to shock Mount Union, Arth found himself struggling with his composure as his defense fought off a last-minute Mount Union drive.

"I'm on the sideline and fighting back the tears," he told an Ohio media outlet. "I'm thinking, 'Wait a second, I have to get back in the moment.' Everything I've been telling our players, keep emotions out of it. I had to get myself back in the right frame of mind."

He soon added, "It's something that you dream about, and it comes down to the belief we had in each other. I'm just proud of our players."

Passion without planning and purpose gets you nowhere. Arth sounds like a guy capable of getting as far up the coaching ladder as he chooses to climb. Luckily for UTC, Blackburn made sure his first big step up that ladder starts in Chattanooga. Not that we should be surprised after the coaching performances of Wade and McCall.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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