Tennessee made a bold move nationally today by naming Joan Cronan, its Women's Athletics Director, as the Interim Vice Chancellor and Interim Senior Administrator for all athletics, men's and women's, on the flagship Knoxville campus.
She will succeed Mike Hamilton in that position next month and hold the title until a permanent successor to Hamilton is made, at which time that successor will become her boss too, until she retires next year and becomes a consultant to the Chancellor for two more years. It is a nice way to end her long career on The Hill.
You might be wondering what the big deal is about a woman being named the men's athletics director, even on an interim basis, at UT. However, you should know that while there have been women AD's over men's sports in other parts of the country, Cronan will be the first woman to hold that position in the venerable Southeastern Conference, as far as I know.
Also, she will be overseeing the transition from having separate men's and women's athletics departments, a relic that only Tennessee and Texas still have, to a combined department for both sexes. It was something long resisted by Tennessee Lady Vols head basketball coach Pat Summitt but something that is now acknowledged as inevitable due to the bad economy and rising costs of having duplicate administrators and staffs.
Full disclosure here.....I have known Joan Cronan for over 30 years. She and Tom, her late husband who headed the Physical Education Department at Carson-Newman College east of Knoxville for many years and lost a courageous battle to cancer, and their children were close neighbors of mine in Holston Hills in Knoxville, where I'm a lifelong resident.
She is one of the most genuinely sincere people I know. She and I have worked on various projects for non-profit charitable organizations over the years, including my time as a member of the Board of Directors of the Big Orange Tipoff Club, with which I'm now involved on their Advisory Board. She exudes integrity.
In selecting Cronan, UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, a native Texan who came to town from Texas A&M via the Florida Gator campus where he was in academic agriculture administration at both prior places, has proven he can listen to good advice and select good people with sound judgment.
You might say that the choice of Cronan was a "no-brainer," considering the talent she brings to the table and the fact she is already on campus.
However, considering some of the hires that my alma mater has made over the last few years in athletics, this one has to be a home run. We can only hope his selection of a permanent Athletics Director, who will also hold the title for Vice Chancellor for Athletics for the first time in Tennessee history, will be as good as this one.
In a poll I conducted in my commentary on the search for a permanent athletics administrator for Tennessee, I hope those who are on the selection committee will take a good look at the top two choices that my readers have chosen to fill the position.
Leading the pack is Ron Wellman, the Wake Forest AD, who was recently named the top AD in America. He was the leading candidate for the job at UT before UT President John Shumaker, who has since resigned in disgrace, botched that hiring by insisting Wellman give him an answer on the same weekend Wellman's daughter was getting married.
Wellman was Mike Hamilton's original boss at Wake. Think how differently things might be at UT in terms of the coaches we would've hired or fired had Wellman been UT's AD the past eight years instead of Hamilton.
The short list of candidates should go no further. Gene DeFilippo, Boston College's AD, is too tied to Phillip Fulmer. Steve Pederson, Pitt's AD and former Nebraska AD, is too tied to Johnny Majors.
The new AD at UT needs to be someone who reunites the UT family, rather than keeping it in fractured camps, as Hamilton admitted it has been for his entire tenure in his farewell news conference. Fulmer and Majors should both be on the selection committee and should both agree to and support whoever is selected.
Others I had in the poll, including former UT football star Charles Davis, who played with Majors as head coach and Fulmer was his offensive coordinator, Louisville's AD Tom Jurich, Northwestern's AD Dr. Jim Phillips, who got his Ph.D. from UT and was briefly a UT Assistant AD, Houston AD Mack Rhoades, UT Associate AD David Blackburn and Nashville attorney Sam Bartholomew, who have all been mentioned by various constituencies, either lack the gravitas or sufficient UT ties to get the masses enthused about their candidacy.
Some of them may not even be interested in the demands of this job.
This hire is the most important one Cheek has ever made in his professional academic career. It has effects reaching far beyond athletics. It will be scrutinized by the legions who make up Big Orange Country all over the world.
Tennessee has more donors than any other school and raises more money per donor than any other University. They are restless that their money hasn't been well spent and are anxious for their programs to win championships again. The effects of this decision, either good or bad, cannot be overestimated.