Chattanooga’s athletic director David Blackburn has to hit the ground running.
After what the former Tennessee senior associate AD called a “very extensive and very thorough” search, one that spanned nine months, Blackburn inherits a laundry list of things to do at Chattanooga. The decisions he makes in his first weeks on the job could be the ones that define him at UTC.
It’s not an enviable position for some. Blackburn knows this, and yet he still chose to leave his post at the University of Tennessee, both his alma mater and employer for more than two decades.
The reason appeared perfectly clear on Tuesday afternoon when an emotional Blackburn was introduced as the university’s next director of athletics by chancellor-elect Dr. Steven Angle.
“I meant it when I went through the process, that this was a job that I truly wanted to have,” said Blackburn. “I meant that. The passion came out at the podium. I didn’t exactly mean for it to come out quite like that, but I’m not embarrassed by that.”
Now it’s time for him to get to work, and the first order of business is finding some basketball coaches.
“That is obviously the first item on the list,” Blackburn said. “It’s that way because it’s been vacant for a few weeks. It’s the time of year to do that, but most of all, those student-athletes—those young women and men—they deserve to have someone come in here and work with them.
“I think it’s important for them to hear my message and to ease their minds that we’re going to do the best we can to bring in someone that will foster a great environment for them to learn and grow and be competitive.
There’s certainly a need for speed regarding both searches, but there’s an even bigger need to get them right.
“Frankly, it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “I’m going to have to spend my first couple of weeks working on the basketball hires as best I can, while at the same time growing and building relationships. But at the front of my agenda will be the men’s and women’s hires.”
Blackburn wouldn’t provide a timetable for the searches, and said he wasn’t concerned with which one would be hired first. That will “depend on how the candidates respond and how the timing plays out.”
On her final day as Chattanooga’s interim athletic director, Laura Herron received plenty of well-deserved praise from Blackburn, Angle and all in attendance at Tuesday's event.
“I personally want to thank her for helping with the process,” Blackburn said. “For what she’s done for this city, this school, certainly the athletics department. It’s hard to do what she’s been asked to do, and to be selfless enough to do that, it takes a special person. From a distance I could see that, and now that I’m here I can see why she’s been successful.”
Herron, who took over following former AD Rick Hart’s departure to Southern Methodist University last July, never expected to lead the department for as long as she did, but nevertheless, she kept things functioning during a time of transition.
“When I was asked to be interim AD they were like ‘will you do it for a couple of months?'" Herron said. “Okay, I can do that. It turned into nine [months], but it’s been a great nine months. We’ve done a lot as a team, but I’m so happy to turn the reigns over to David."
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.