I'm not stupid.
I realize the powers that be at the University of Tennessee live in a world that I do not. They have power, wealth, and influence that I do not, and when decisions get made they get made by only those who live in the other world. I realize that, as a Tennessee fan, we need people with at least some level of greater objectivity in these decision making processes; if you let fans make all the decisions, we'd lose a ton of money and no one would want the football job because we promised it to Peyton Manning in waiting years ago.
The powers that be at Tennessee are necessary. They don't have to be a necessary evil.
The face we see most often is Mike Hamilton's, Tennessee's Athletic Director. Hamilton has done plenty of curious things - you can read about them here - but today this isn't about Mike Hamilton. This is about Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, the board of trustees, and their relationship with Tennessee fans...and why they seem to want to make our relationship as frustrating as possible.
In an interview with Beth Rucker (AP) yesterday, here are a few of the comments the powers that be made in light of the situation with Bruce Pearl:
"It’s very difficult to operate a very complicated business — which the athletic department is — based on trying to read the tea leaves of public opinion. My practice has been not to do that." - Jim Murphy, Board of Trustees vice chairman
As mentioned, I understand that the university cannot bend to every whim of the fanbae. I also understand that sometimes the tea leaves are hard to read; such was probably the case with Phillip Fulmer for several years.
But that was never the case with Bruce Pearl. Two-thirds of Tennesssee fans wanted Pearl to stay based on our poll, and more than 90% supported Pearl over Hamilton in a Knoxville News-Sentinel poll. The tea leaves were crystal clear in this case - that excuse simply does not work here.
The powers that be should be concerned with the tea leaves coming from the NCAA, and they'd better be experts in reading those. But the powers that be also seem to be overly concerned with the tea leaves of national perception. They don't want to listen to the fanbase, but they sure seem interested in what ESPN has to say.
More times than I care to recount, I've read something about Tennessee being concerned with what the national media is saying about them. These are the last tea leaves we should be trying to read. I don't care if it's the antagonistic types like Gregg Doyel, the ones with Tennessee ties like Chris Low, your favorite columnist or your least favorite columnist. You cannot let the media dictate your job to you. If you're adamant about not listening to us, at least don't go out of your way to listen to them.
And look, I hear you when you say the athletic department is a business...to you.
That's not what the athletic department is to the majority of the people who are invested in it. Any fan can understand that business is part of the equation, and an important variable at that. But college athletics becoming more business-like does not mean college athletics are getting better.
To us, business is not at the heart of college football and basketball...but we're willing to go along with it on the fringe. I'm a season ticket holder in both sports. Tennessee went 6-7 in football last year, 18-20 over the last three years, and jacked the ticket prices up 8.3% for this fall. Concession prices have skyrocketed in the last several years.
And I will pay it. Most will.
We're willing to accept the business because we get so much pleasure out of it.
It's a trade that works for both parties: we enjoy the experience, and the university turns a profit. If you're the powers that be, you want this relationship to continue to work. So why you think it's a good idea to say things like this is beyond me:
"I think the fans are very important to our program, but we’re here to manage the (athletics) programs. These are complex decisions we have to make. There’s certainly information that I’m privy to that the rest of the public is not privy to. We have to look at everything." - Jimmy Cheek, Chancellor
The way Tennessee has failed most spectacularly in the last few months is in public relations. It started with Mike Hamilton's radio interview the week of the NCAA Tournament. It continued with the press release and lack of press conference when they fired the basketball coach that everybody loved; I'm sure there are legal reasons behind some of that, but it remains disrespectful not only to Pearl, but to the fans.
But rule number one for anyone involved with a major college athletic department is, "Never, ever start a sentence with, 'I think the fans are very important to our program, but...'"
Again, I get it. You're making the decisions, not us. As it relates to Pearl, my hope continues to be that Tennessee had no other choice based on information they somehow received from the NCAA - not because of anything the media said, not because of national perception. My hope continues to be that the powers that be made a decision that was unpopular with 90% of the fanbase because they truly had no other choice...not because they really don't care about the fact that 90% of the fanbase was against them.
But when they say things like this, it makes me worry...and it makes me angry.
Whether the powers that be actually value the opinions of the fanbase or not, don't be so arrogant and/or ignorant to give us the impression that you don't in an interview that runs in the local paper.
Because here's what Jimmy Cheek and the boys should really understand: time heals all wounds.
You've already fired the guy everybody loved and answered zero questions about it. And every day that passes, you get away with it more and more. Most of us are on board with Cuonzo Martin, including yours truly. I was an incredibly strong supporter of Bruce Pearl and held the belief that the Vols should retain him in the face of up to a one year suspension. But when the program went another way, we started moving on. This is and always will be a football institution - some of us have already turned our attention to Derek Dooley's second year and won't give serious thought to Cuonzo Martin until it actually matters on the court in November.
You've already decided to play the silence card. Now you need to ride it out. Because every time you open your mouth, you're making it harder for everybody to move on. And from everyone's perspective, the sooner we move on from Bruce Pearl and embrace Cuonzo Martin, the better.
I'm tired of writing stuff like this, I promise. The combination of the decision to remove Pearl and statements like this one from the men who pulled the trigger certainly give us the perception that the powers that be really don't care about the fans. Even if, hopefully, it's only perception and not reality, they have certainly gone out of their way to put a wedge between us and them.
And above all, I and every Tennessee fan simply want what is best for the University of Tennessee. Bruce Pearl's departure may have been just that, even if we have different reasons why that's the case. But on the end goal, we can all agree: we all want what's best for this place.
In the last month, you've been silent when everyone wanted you to speak, and when you speak you hurt the university. So either keep to your silence, or choose words that will actualy help the University of Tennessee move forward. If it's a business to you, then understand this: you need us to put our time, money, and energy into your product. And we need you to make sure that the product is as good as it possibly can be.
Stop making it worse. Start making it better.