Will UT spend the bucks?

Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton is on record saying he can't imagine paying a Vol basketball coach more than the football coach. Still, he says UT will spend big bucks, if necessary, to get the right replacement for ousted hoops coach Buzz Peterson.

The issue arose at today's news conference confirming Peterson's dismissal. A reporter noted that Tennessee is committed to paying a premium wage for its football coach, then asked if Hamilton is as committed to basketball.

The athletics director replied: "We're going to do what it takes to get the right coach at the University of Tennessee."

Although he said he's open to other options, Hamilton said his ideal replacement would meet two criteria:

1. ''Someone who has had success at a particular school for a period of time." (He wants a head coach who is a proven winner, not an unproven assistant.)

2. "Someone who believes, as do I, that this is a great place to coach and we can win championships here."

Hamilton already met with Vol players to assure them he'll hire a quality coach to replace Peterson. He also asked them not to jump ship.

''We had a very healthy meeting,'' Hamilton said. ''I thought it was very productive. It's an emotional time. These are 18- to 22-year-olds. They've got a lot on their plate...

''The thing I ask of them is, realizing it's an emotional time, to be patient and think about what they say and give us a chance to bring the new coaching staff in here and let that coaching staff visit with them before they make any rash decisions.''

The Big Orange Nation was split roughly 50/50 on the issue of whether to retain or replace the charismatic Peterson. Either way Hamilton went, he was going to anger roughly half of the fan base. After being tugged in both directions, he came to one conclusion.

''The one thing I would tell you is that there IS interest in UT basketball,'' Hamilton said. ''That's been the most encouraging thing throughout the entire process. The words, thoughts and emotions expressed are by fans who have really shown concern for UT basketball.''

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