Delmonico firing not surprising

The firing of 18-year veteran Tennessee baseball coach Rod Delmonico did not come as a surprise. Twice I asked UT athletic director Mike Hamilton if Delmonico would be returning as coach and twice Hamilton said he would have to meet with Delmonico when he returned to Knoxville from the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla.

It's not what Hamilton said. It's what he didn't say.

If he planned to keep Delmonico, he would have said so, giving his embattled coach a vote of confidence.

Instead, Hamilton said he would have to wait until he talked to Delmonico. That was a strong indication change was in the air.

Hamilton had grown tired of the inconsistent seasons Delmonico produced. While Delmonico delivered three College World Series teams during his tenure, he made the NCAA Tournament just three times in the past 10 seasons and was more than 30 games below .500 in SEC playing during that time.

Delmonico didn't help himself when he said if UT wanted to fire him, it would cost a lot of money. Asked about that comment, Hamilton had no comment.

It also hurt Delmonico that he didn't have much support from former players. While many returned for alumni games and golf tournaments, they didn't jump to the plate to donate money as UT sought to renovate Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Moreover, Tennessee was last in the SEC in baseball attendance. Delmonico clearly did not do enough promoting of his program to generate fan support.

Delmonico's buyout is $430,000 to be paid in three installments over the next 12 months. He will get the $430,000 even if he takes another job. He is rumored to be a strong candidate at Florida International in Miami.

What's intriguing about Delmonico is that despite his success, despite his 699 wins (fourth all-time in the SEC), he was the lowest-paid baseball coach in the SEC. He made $190,000 - $28,000 less than the No. 11 coach on the salary list. He got $120,000 base and $70,000 for radio, television and apparel.

If your coach is the lowest paid in the SEC, what are your expectations?

Hamilton said that's a fair question. He said it's something he and Delmonico talked about often. Hamilton said his expectations are for UT to make the NCAA Tournament each year.

Delmonico got $10,000 for making the NCAA Tournament. If he'd made the last two, he would have made $210,000 this season and, according to Hamilton, ``we wouldn't be having this discussion'' about firing Delmonico.

When Delmonico signed the deal two years ago, he was among the SEC's top 10 paid coaches.

By the way, the average baseball salary in the SEC is $375,000.

To find a capable replacement, Hamilton knows he'll have to pay more – perhaps much more – than $190,000.

Hamilton said he'd like a proven head coach, but he wouldn't rule out hiring an assistant. He would like to have a new coach in place within three weeks. Among the candidates: former UT assistant Dave Serrano, head coach at California-Irvine whose team recently advanced to the Super Regionals by upsetting No. 4 seed Texas, the coach at TCU and the coach at College of Charleston and the assistant head coach at South Carolina, Jim Toman.

Hamilton expects infielder Tony Delmonico, Rod's son, to transfer. On Sunday, after he was fired, Rod called Tyler Johnson, UT assistant athletic director, to inquire about Tony transferring. Tony hit .335 as a freshman and led the team in home runs as a sophomore. He was recruited by Florida State and Georgia Tech while in high school.

Associate athletic director Carmen Tegano has been placed in charge of the baseball program, Hamilton said.

Players signed by Delmonico will not be released until a new coach is hired and has a chance to evaluate the signees, Hamilton said.

Delmonico is the third coach Hamilton has fired or wasn't upset about losing. Hamilton fired men's basketball coach Buzz Peterson two years ago and men's tennis coach Michael Fancutt left three years ago.

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