John Clay

John Clay: With Vols AD's departure, UK fans lose their comfort fool

Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton resigned Tuesday after numerous NCAA violations and poor seasons by his programs. Story, Page B6
Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton resigned Tuesday after numerous NCAA violations and poor seasons by his programs. Story, Page B6 AP

Come on, Tennessee, you sure know how to mess up a good thing.

As far as Kentucky fans were concerned, Mike Hamilton could be Tennessee's athletics director for life.

After all, what better way for the Big Blue Nation to deal with the pain of that long losing streak to the football Vols than watch the entire Rocky Top athletics program hit rock bottom.

Tuesday morning, four days before he was supposed to lead his department before the Committee on Infractions, the NCAA's version of the principal's office, Hamilton quit his job.

For this profile in courage, Hamilton receives $1.3 million over the next 36 months, plus eight football and eight basketball tickets — for life.

But given the current condition of Tennessee football and basketball, don't think Hamilton will be able to scalp those tickets for a higher price any time soon.

Big Orange Country seemed puzzled by the odd timing of Hamilton's abrupt departure. Everywhere else, however, there was a chorus: What took you so long?

After all, Hamilton was the same person who pushed Phil Fulmer aside so that he could hire Lane Kiffin, the boy-wonder football coach who turned out just to be a spoiled little boy.

Kiffin picked unnecessary fights, bent rules, broke others, and then left after one season to take his "dream job" at Southern California, another school with a recent NCAA infractions history.

In such sad shape was the once-proud Tennessee program that Hamilton had a difficult time finding anyone who wanted to deal with Knoxville's toxic spill, finally settling for Derek Dooley, son of Vince, who failed to wow anyone at Louisiana Tech.

That might have earned Hamilton a pink slip right there except for the fact that he had hit a basketball home run by hiring Bruce Pearl. The manic coach had interjected enthusiasm, success and ticket-sale revenue into the previously lifeless program, taking the Vols all the way to the Elite Eight in 2010.

Unfortunately, Pearl was as fluent in falsehoods as he was fast breaks. He lied to the NCAA about entertaining recruits at a home barbecue — a no-no — then phoned the parents to coerce a cover-up. When that failed, and with knowledge that the NCAA owned an incriminating picture of the Pearl picnic, the coach tearfully came clean.

Tennessee said it was standing by its popular coach, and it did right up until he finished a 19-15 season with a 30-point loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Violations? Lying? Cover-up? No problem. A poor season capped by an embarrassing NCAA loss? Big problem.

Yet Hamilton himself stood firm. He wasn't quitting. Never mind that the NCAA had charged his department with major violations in football and basketball. He wasn't quitting. His administration backed him. So he wasn't quitting.

Tuesday, Hamilton quit. His legacy: Hamilton leaves a football program that is but a creaky caricature of itself. He leaves a train wreck of a basketball program, whose new leader, Cuonzo Martin, will coach his first game for a boss who did not hire him.

Hard to imagine what sort of orange parachute Hamilton would have received had he done a good job.

In the best irony of all, as Nashville talk show host Clay Travis tweeted on Tuesday: "With Pearl and Hamilton out, Lane Kiffin will be only coach with major violation pending who still has job."

The thought of Tennessee fans living with that inconvenient truth no doubt brings a grin to Kentucky fans.

It might not be worth 26 straight losses in football, but it's something.