Fill-in Fancher

When head basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his assistants were fired on March 21, Tennessee's players needed a familiar face to comfort them, a calm voice to reassure them and a steady hand to guide them.

Fortunately, they found all three in one person. Best of all, he was right there in the Vol basketball office.

Houston Fancher did such a quality job of keeping the Big Orange ship afloat during the turbulence that followed the firings that he has been rewarded with a promotion. Pearl's successor, Cuonzo Martin, recently elevated Fancher from coordinator of video scouting to director of basketball operations.

Naturally, he appreciates the chance to remain a part of Tennessee's staff. But that wasn't why he took on the difficult task of running the program during the transition from Pearl to Martin.

"I knew right away that I wanted to be there for the players through this transition," Fancher said this week. "I've been involved in these transitions before, and I wanted to be sure they have somebody to go to. Many times in these situations the players are the ones who end up sacrificing, and that shouldn't be the case. They're the ones it's all about."

The 45-year-old Fancher, a Newport native and Middle Tennessee alumnus, was involved in a coaching transition just two years earlier. Despite three division titles, a school-record 25 victories in 2006-07 and a Southern Conference Coach of the Year Award, he stepped down in March of 2009 after compiling a 137-136 record at Appalachian State.

Knowing first-hand how traumatic coaching changes are for the players, he wanted to comfort Tennessee's players after Pearl was dismissed. Once athletics director Mike Hamilton tabbed him interim coach, Fancher had the authority to do so.

"Mike trusted me to be in this position, so the first thing we had to do was step forward and be there for the kids," Fancher recalled. "We had the kids at my house that night to let them talk about their feelings and to reassure them that everything's going to be OK. Kids always have some insecurities about their lives, so when something like this pops up they need somebody to reassure them that things are going to be fine.

"They did a great job from the time that Coach Pearl left to the time Coach Martin was brought in. They took care of their business, and now they've moved right into the business of dealing with Coach Martin in a fine fashion."

One day before he was officially promoted to director of basketball operations, Fancher was asked about the potential benefits of keeping a holdover from the previous regime.

"I think you'd have to ask the players that," he said, "but I believe the sense of having someone there they know and trust makes the transition a little bit easier.

"No one (on the new staff) knows what went on before and no one knows some of the things the players are comfortable with and some of the things they're set in their ways about, so I can help Coach Martin bridge into their lives a little so he can understand what they're all about. I understand what they're all about, having been around them for one or two years now. That helps me to educate Coach Martin on some of these kids' backgrounds. It helps the players because they can come hold my hand, and I can lead with Coach Martin and make them feel comfortable that way.

"I think the familiarity of having someone around that they trust makes it easier in a transition."

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