Lee Fowler is a Tennessee guy, but not in the sense that fellow candidate David Blackburn is a Tennessee guy.
The Columbia, Tenn., native and former North Carolina State AD (2000-2010), Fowler, has ties to three in-state schools, but not one wears orange.
He received his undergraduate degree, played basketball and later served as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University. He spent 16 years at the University of Memphis as a assistant, graduate student and administrator. He also served as AD at Middle Tennessee State for six years, where he directed the Blue Raider football program’s move from Division I-AA to Division I-A in 1999.
Fowler would like nothing more than to add a fourth in-state school to that list.
“I’ve been in North Carolina for about 13 years,” he said. “I’m ready to come back home.”
It’s one of the main reasons the veteran administrator is interested in the athletic director position at Chattanooga
“I think I could make a real difference here,” he said. “I have a lot of national contacts and state contacts, and I’m really excited with what I’ve seen through the process today—the things on campus and in the city.”
He’d also like to get back to what he enjoys most: Being involved with the student athletes. Fowler said his current job as director of basketball operations for the Sun Belt Conference, has made that clear to him.
“Getting to know [the student athletes] and seeing them start as wide-eyed, 18-year-old freshmen, then see them graduate and become young professionals, I miss that," Fowler said. "I saw that every time I was on campus, and really missed being engaged like that. It really told me this is where I need to be. I’ve done it 26 years, and this is what I really want to do.”
Chancellor-elect Steven Angle, who he met with last week for about three hours, is another turn on for Fowler.
“[Angle] stated more than once that he wants the athletic department to be a front door to the university,” Fowler said. “He’s a guy that wants everything at UTC to be high level and successful. I know that he’ll allow us to do things we need to do to be very successful.
“I saw at Middle Tennessee what a leader can do at a university.”
Fowler visited campus on Wednesday, meeting briefly with the media. Tennessee senior associate AD David Blackburn and Wake Forest associate AD Mike Buddie did so on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Fowler is significantly older than both other two finalists, and has the most adminsitrative experience as a result. He just hopes there’s no ageism taking place in the selection process.
“I’m like Ronald Reagan,” he said. “Don’t use their inexperience against them.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.