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UT’s Hamilton keynotes FWK Chamber fete

Emphasizing the University of Tennessee football program is the “winningest in America over the last seventy-five years,” UT men’s athletic director Mike Hamilton addressed the program’s current woes and promising future among athletic topics during his speech in front of Farragut/West Knox Chamber of Commerce members and officials.

As guest speaker for the Speaker Series breakfast at Fox Den Country Club Tuesday, Nov. 15, Hamilton said head football coach Phillip Fulmer’s struggles in 2005 might be a wake-up call.

“It’s a great opportunity to step back and take a look … do I have the right people around me? Am a using the right schemes? Am I recruiting the right way? Do I have the right administration? Phillip Fulmer has had so much success that he hasn’t been forced to do that,” Hamilton said, adding that he feels 2005 “is an aberration.”

“When you go forty-one days without a win at a place like Tennessee, that’s not very much fun …,” Hamilton said, adding that he puts the 2005 season into perspective with a “Chicken Little” movie analogy.

“I went to see ‘Chicken Little’ with my kids this weekend, and the theme there is the sky’s falling,” Hamilton said to Chamber laughs. “… But in the end the sky is not falling, it’s an alien invasion.”

Among money matters, Hamilton said University of Georgia AD David Evans was “so proud” of a gift of $50,000 to UGA’s “academic causes.” He noted by comparison a UT athletic department gift of $1.375 million for academic scholarships at Tennessee.

In making a point about how the program cares about its athletes, Hamilton said former Vol footballer Tori Noel came from poverty in Memphis “and now he’s in land development in West Tennessee and Los Angeles. To see stories like that, that’s what makes my job worthwhile.”

Among the statistics and department information Hamil-ton provided:

• said athletic graduation rates among UT male athletes is above the student body’s rate of 57-percent.

• said that based on upcoming facility expansions among a total long-range cost estimate of $185 million, “twenty-four months from now we’re going to look very different athletically.” Ground will be broken on both soccer and softball stadiums within the next two months, in addition to phase one and phase two of Neyland Stadium renovation ($34 million) and basketball “boxes” to be ready for the 2007-08 season, in addition to the possible completion of a new basketball practice facility by then.

• said that in a nationwide measure of overall athletic performance (such as student academics and managing a budget in addition to athletic competition), “We finished third in that” behind only Duke and Stanford.

Among questions from the Chamber gathering:

• said adding men’s soccer is possible, though based on gender equity within the SEC the Lady Vols would have to add one more sport to make it possible. That most likely would be lacrosse based on the preference of women’s AD Joan Cronan, Hamilton said, adding the cost of each additional sport would be between $500,000 and $1 million per year.

• said UT, unlike other SEC schools such as Alabama, Auburn and Georgia that require donations to be a season-ticket holder, “we have continued [a] phase-in approach” while still having “about” 30,000 grandfathered season ticket holders out of 78,000 total.

• said UT would probably not play regular season homes games on a yearly basis, though adding the 2004 Sunday game versus UNLV and the coordination with the City of Knoxville’s “Boomsday” activities was quite successful and that it’s possible to do it again. However, “I also believe college football is meant for more of a Saturday game, and we’re in the heart of the Bible Belt.”

Among audience reaction, Joy Armstrong of R.M. Moore Real Estate said she was impressed with Hamilton’s “commitment to the job, his commitment to the athletes, the commitment of the overall program to the university — that it is part of the university and doesn’t stand alone.”

Mike Such of Junk Be Gone, LLC, said Hamilton “is obviously a very intelligent man, he gave a great speech. He talked about the future of the organization and where he’s taking it. And his emphasis on students is wonderful, I think that’s where it needs to be.”

Such said he was especially impressed about Hamilton’s perspective on UT football’s woes, how “it’s a short-term problem and there are no long-term effects. And he put the emphasis back on the kids during the [speech] itself.

“They look like they’re looking to the future, which I think is great.”


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