Cronan will be on the front page Friday for another reason – she was selected as the interim vice chancellor/director of athletics for the Vols, adding those responsibilities to her 28-year tenure as Women's Athletics Director. The development was announced Thursday by Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
"I am proud, I am humbled, and I really appreciate the trust that the chancellor has placed in me," Cronan said. "My blood is orange, and I think that there are a lot of good things happening here, and my goal is to smooth them out and keep them going in the right direction."
"Joan Cronan epitomizes the Volunteer spirit," Cheek said. "She has been a vital part of Tennessee Athletics for 30 years and will provide proven leadership during our transitional period. I appreciate her willingness to assume this responsibility."
Cronan made it clear that she was not interested in the permanent job – combined with her 10 years as athletics director at the College of Charleston she has 38 years of top administrative experience – and the permanent position needed to go to someone who would be in the job for the long haul.
Cronan expected that a successor would be in place before the start of the 2011 football season and possibly in less than two months. The opening football game is Sept. 3 when Tennessee hosts Montana.
Cronan's contract with the University of Tennessee expires in 2014, and she will spend one last year as Women's AD and then two years as a special consultant. Cronan will mark the end of an era since Tennessee will shift to one athletics director over the Vols and Lady Vols with a senior women's administrator to oversee the women's interests but not in the capacity as an AD.
Tennessee was in need of an interim AD for the Vols after the resignation this week of Mike Hamilton, an excellent fund-raiser despite a sputtering economy who could not survive three of his hires in the most visible sports of football, basketball and baseball. Hamilton remains on staff until June 30.
Lane Kiffin (football) and Bruce Pearl (basketball) have brought the NCAA to Tennessee's door with major issues, and Todd Raleigh (baseball) struggled during his four years on campus. Kiffin left for Southern Cal after one season in 2009, and Pearl was fired last March for initially lying to the NCAA over a barbecue at his house that was attended by a recruit on an unofficial visit, among other infractions such as impermissible phone calls to prospects. Raleigh was fired in May after the Vols once again failed to qualify for the SEC postseason.
Cronan will be spared the thorniest issue – the hearing before the NCAA is this Saturday – as Cheek and Hamilton, as agreed upon prior to his resignation, will handle that presentation. Pearl and Kiffin also are expected to be present.
"I have not been involved in that because it hadn't involve (the Lady Vols), and I am going to stay out of it until we go down the road farther," Cronan said.
Cronan instead will turn her attention to the next most pressing matter – the need to fill the vacancy for Tennessee baseball, a prime position in a competitive conference.
"I had three different meetings today and the process has been started," Cronan said in a phone interview with Inside Tennessee after the announcement of her new interim job. "I am going to jump in immediately, and I hope we can have a baseball coach in the near future.
"We're going to meet again (Friday). We've got a great committee that has done a lot of research, and I've been brought up to speed. When you think about what our baseball program could be there are a lot of good baseball coaches out there that want to come to Tennessee.
"The SEC is such a strong conference. We've been able to upgrade our facilities. With the things that have happened here I just think it's a fine job."
Cronan also fills an immediate need for Tennessee fans who are suffering from scandal fatigue and are ready for football to return to prominence under Derek Dooley, baseball to matter and basketball to recover from a season of uncertainty when it came to Pearl's status and now find a way to continue to be successful under Cuonzo Martin.
Cronan has never had any major issues with Lady Vols athletics during her nearly three-decade rein, and it's because of a compliance department that is stringent and interprets NCAA regulations not just by the letter but also by the spirit of the law under her direction.
"My philosophy as athletics director is my job is to make the coach's job the best it can be, to make the athlete's experience the best it can be – because that is really why we're here – and to represent the university with class and do it the right way," Cronan said.
"We want to go forward, and we want to go forward as a model program. My job is to be on the front page of the newspaper for winning championships."
Only two universities still use a split athletics director for the men and women – Texas is the other – but Tennessee will cut that to one soon.
"When this happened (the invitation to be interim AD), I had to think, ‘What do I want to do,' " Cronan said. "One, am I the right person to be interim, and I very humbly think I am. Two, we are going to finish the consolidation of our programs and this allows me to be an active part of that. And then three I had to come to grips with the fact you do want to retire one day, and 2014 sounded like a good year.
"I really think the person we hire (to become the permanent AD) needs to be somebody that wants to come in and have stability and stay a longer period of time than I want or should stay.
"I will go back to Director of Women's Athletics still reporting to the chancellor for that year of transition – that is this coming year – and then the next two years I will act as a special consultant to the chancellor and vice chancellor. It ends (the women's AD) as a freestanding position. That doesn't mean that we still won't have somebody in charge of women's athletics, but we will have one athletics director, and 99 percent of the schools do at this stage.
"What I like is we've been able to do it, we've been able to do it right, and we've been able to control our destiny."
Cronan becomes the first female athletics director in the SEC – a conference steeped in football – and the story was quickly picked up by the national newswires. She said congratulations poured in Thursday as news broke of her selection as interim AD.
"My phone is crazy, my computer is crazy, but I am loving every minute of it," Cronan said. "I'm honored and for lots of reasons to be able to do this and be able to lead a transition as we go forward for both men's and women's athletics.
"I think it speaks volumes. No other university supports women more than the University of Tennessee, and I think this is just the statement of how much they appreciate what we've done. I think it's a statement about the credibility of all of our women's programs.
"I met with all of our (Vols and Lady Vols) head coaches today, and they are quality people, men and women."
Cronan got a major nod of approval from Summitt, who is entering her 38th season as head coach of the Lady Vols basketball program.
"I am proud of Joan," Summitt said in a text message to Inside Tennessee. "Her leadership speaks for itself. Chancellor Cheek made a great choice!"
From the abrupt departure of Kiffin in January of 2010 to the prolonged limbo status of Pearl last season to the sub-par performances of baseball under Raleigh, Tennessee fans have endured a lot of disappointment in the last year and a half.
"My goal is to bring stability and a good perspective to what we're all about," Cronan said. "We have great coaches, we've got great athletes, I've got a great administrative staff, and we just need to continue to tell the story."