One-on-One with Donde: UT football leadership change ‘not as quick as it looked’

Orange & White Nation

UT Chancellor Donde Plowman speaks with WATE Anchor Lori Tucker on Feb. 11, 2021.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It’s been a rough time on Rocky Top: a failing football program, allegations of NCAA violations, serious enough to lead to the firing of coach Jeremy Pruitt, and the surprise retirement of athletic director Phillip Fulmer.

Chancellor Donde Plowman says no question, these major hiring decisions have been tougher to deal with than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plowman said the process didn’t happen as quickly as people may have thought.

Changes for UT football on the field and off.

We asked Plowman, “Coaching, the new A.D., quick decision, quick decisions, at least it looked like that from the outside.”

She replied, “The decision-making process wasn’t quite as quick as it might have looked. So, for example, in mid-November I got the information that there could be something going on in football, and so we immediately jumped on that with our general counsel, our compliance officers. We, within a few days, hired a firm that is known around the country for being experts in this area. They came in and helped us with this investigation.”

“I felt really confident about my ability to pick good leaders because I’ve got a strong track record in the positions I’ve been in,” Plowman said. “The area I need a lot of help in is athletics. That’s not an area I know a lot about. That’s why I hired the search firm to search the candidates and then I thought, ‘I can see what they’ve done.'”

“It just made it clear to me that I’m responsible as the leader of this institution to uphold the compliance rules, so Phillip and I had a lot of conversations with Randy Boyd over a few days period about what we were going to do there, and we made the decision, and that’s when Phillip also said, ‘Well, this is my time to retire.'”

Many UT fans questioned the timing of Phillip Fulmer’s retirement.

“Well, look, earlier in the year, we extended Jeremy (Pruitt’s) contract, Phillip did, I mean that was months earlier thinking in this business, football coaches often have the same kind of numbers on their contracts,” Plowman said. “Philip was supportive of the coach and supportive of the fact that it takes years to rebuild a program. So, that was definitely the thinking early on, but the decision about terminating Jeremy was one that Phillip, Randy and I made together.”

What about the fan base?

Chancellor Plowman replied, “Oh, you mean those on Twitter?”

We quoted “He’s got three years then he’s out, too.”

Plowman said, “you know, I really appreciated, I hadn’t provided Danny White any of that data. At his press conference he said, ‘text your buddy if you want to say something negative.’ I agree with that.”

She went on to say, “I understand the fan base. They want to be proud of this school. They want a winning program. So, do I, and so I understand that I feel it. I think-I wish all of us would think about how we use social media in a more positive way. But at the end of the day, I think we did the right thing. I feel really positive about the future, about Danny in that role. I’m just so excited. He then did, I think, a very good job in hiring Josh and that looked quick. It felt excruciatingly long to me. “

Changes in UT football and the anticipated growing pains.

“There’s going to be a period here where we don’t know what all is in front of us. But he wants the experience to be fun next fall and that’s what they’re aiming for, so , I’m excited,” she said. “I can’t wait. I’m actually excited.”

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