Buzz Doomed Before SEC Tourney

Buzz Peterson didn't know it at the time, but he was a lame-duck coach when he went to last week's SEC basketball tournament.

UT athletics director Mike Hamilton confirmed at a news conference today that he had hired Champ Sports of Los Angeles to begin the search process ''on a contingency basis'' even before the Vols traveled to Atlanta for the league tourney. He added that Champ Sports already has contacted some potential replacements, although he declined to say how many.

Essentially, there was nothing the Vols could've done in the SEC tournament that would've saved Peterson's job. Peterson's fate already was sealed.

''I don't think it all depends on wins and losses,'' Hamilton said. ''In the end, it was about the direction of the program.''

Hamilton clearly was thrilled when Tennessee drilled Arkansas by 19 points in its SEC tourney opener. Asked if he was still struggling with the decision at that point, he replied: ''I was probably struggling with emotions more than anything else.''

Despite rampant speculation that he would be fired, Peterson showed ''an element of surprise'' when told of his dismissal, the athletics director said, adding he also noted ''a sense of relief'' from the outgoing coach.

Asked why he didn't announce the firing prior to the SEC tournemant, Hamilton replied: ''Basically, because of the kids involved ... to give our kids the opportunity to play out their season and not have this decision we have now made hanging over their heads.''

Many friends and fans came to Peterson's defense in recent weeks, including Vol football coach Phil Fulmer, Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt, former Vol quarterback Peyton Manning, former Vol baseball star Todd Helton, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams and former UNC coach Dean Smith. Meanwhile, calls to Knox-area sports-talk shows seemed to be roughly 50-50 on whether Peterson should be retained or released.

Hamilton noted there were ''very strong opinions on both sides of the equation, but when you get down to the final analysis -- the final decision -- you have to go with your gut based on your analysis of the situation and what you feel is in the best interest of the program, long-term.''

The athletics director noted that the 2004-05 Vols did not live up to expectations. He singled out disappointing homefloor losses to UT-Chattanooga and Nebraska. He also mentioned several ''benchmark'' schools that he thought Tennessee should be able to defeat -- Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and those type programs.''

Interestingly enough, Tennessee went 4-5 against these teams. The Vols lost to Auburn, beat Georgia twice, split two games with South Carolina, lost to Vanderbilt twice and split two games (one in the SEC Tournament) with Arkansas.

In answer to a direct question about whether he will have the ''loudest voice'' in the hiring of a new coach, Hamilton replied: ''Absolutely. The president has made it clear he expects me to lead the search and make the hire, and that's what I intend to do.''

Asked if he has a timetable for announcing a new coach, Hamilton responded: ''Yeah. As long as it takes to get the right coach for the University of Tennessee."

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