KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton announced Tuesday he decided to resign so the Volunteers would have a "clean slate" when they go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions later in the week.
Hamilton, who has been at the helm of Tennessee men's athletics for eight seasons, said it was both a personal decision and one that he hoped would help reunite the Vols fanbase. During a three-year period, Hamilton fired a popular coach, hired a controversial one and now the athletic department faces 12 NCAA infractions against the football and basketball programs.
"The last several years at UT have been marked by turmoil, fractures and the development of camps. This is not healthy, nor is it productive for our university," Hamilton said. "During the last three months in particular, I myself have become a lightning rod for negative attention, and that's a major distraction for the many positive things that are going on in athletics and on our campus."
Hamilton will join UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, former Vols and current Southern California football coach Lane Kiffin and former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and other Tennessee representatives to respond to the NCAA's charges on Saturday in Indianapolis. He will take administrative leave from Tennessee beginning Monday and remain on staff until June 30 unless he finds new employment.
He is receiving a buyout of $1.3 million over three years and he will be given the lifetime complimentary use of eight season football tickets and eight season basketball tickets. Cheek declined to discuss the terms of Hamilton's separation agreement during Tuesday's news conference.
Hamilton first drew criticism from fans in 2008 when he fired Phillip Fulmer, who had led the Vols to a national title a decade earlier, before the football season had ended. He replaced Fulmer with a mostly unproven Kiffin, who bolted after one season, leaving the program coping with violations in his wake.
"My family and I are extremely grateful for the opportunity Mike afforded us at Tennessee," Kiffin said in a statement posted on USC's official Twitter account.
Hamilton's hiring of Pearl in 2005 turned out to be a popular one after the basketball coach lead the Vols to their first No. 1 ranking and first NCAA regional final in history. However, Pearl fell from grace after admitting he lied to the NCAA during its investigation and committing additional violations.
"I went to work every day trying to reward Mike Hamilton for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime," Pearl said in a statement. "I am grateful he brought me to Tennessee. For the majority of the time that I was his men's basketball coach we built something very special. I am so sorry that some of my mistakes and the results from them contributed to all that the athletic family and university have been through during this rough stretch."
Hamilton also fired baseball coach Todd Raleigh, a man he hired in 2007 after firing Rod Delmonico, a coach who had led the Vols to the College World Series. Raleigh went 108-113 in his four seasons and failed to lead Tennessee to a single Southeastern Conference or NCAA tournament.
"I've never experienced more challenge or frustration in my 26 years of professional life than during the last 18 months," Hamilton said. "I accept the responsibility for the things that have led to some of these challenges. Ultimately, I think today was inevitable based upon today's operating environment in college athletics."
Hamilton, who was sharply criticized by fans and observers in March for making pointed comments about Pearl just days before the Vols' NCAA tournament appearance, said he has been considering resigning for several months and approached Cheek last week at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., to discuss it.
He said he wanted to announce his decision before the NCAA hearing because he did not want people to think his decision was tied directly to the NCAA hearing but understood that his departure could help Tennessee in the eyes of the NCAA.
"I don't have any firm knowledge of this but it's my belief with people I talked to that going in to the Committee on Infractions now with a new head basketball coach, a new head football coach and the prospect of a new athletic director, it's not bad for the University of Tennessee," he said. "I can't say that it's good necessarily but it's certainly not bad"
Cheek said he did not force Hamilton to resign but also did not try to persuade him to stay. Cheek said he will name an interim athletics director in the coming days and hopes to have a permanent replacement by the beginning of the football season after conducting a nationwide search.
"We need to stabilize our leadership team and move ourselves aggressively forward in the directions we want to go," he said. "Which means we're going to be a better place in the future than we are today."
Hamilton has helped interview candidates for baseball coach but said it will be up to a committee of Vols officials to make the final decision now, which probably won't come until the conclusion of the College World Series at the end of June.
Hamilton also asked for fans to rally together to support football coach Derek Dooley, basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and the future athletics director. Dooley thanked him for his support.
"I will always be grateful for the opportunity Mike gave me to be the head football coach at Tennessee," Dooley said. "The tremendous support he provided our staff and program has allowed us to set a strong foundation for the future of Tennessee football."