Fans upset UT doesn't hire 'name' coach

The first email said: ``Pitiful.'' The first caller said: ``You've got to be kidding!'' Tennessee fans were not impressed with the hiring of baseball coach Todd Raleigh. They felt athletic director Mike Hamilton struck out. Hiring a coach from Western Carolina?

I was a bit surprised by the negative reaction.

I don't know if Raleigh will be a successful replacement for the fired Rod Delmonico. But Tennessee fans should at least give the guy a chance.

I remember a majority of fans blasting Phillip Fulmer when he promoted John Chavis to defensive coordinator.

I remember the majority of fans praising Doug Dickey when he hired Kevin O'Neil, then Buzz Peterson.

I remember a lot of fans ripping Hamilton for firing Peterson, then hiring a relative unknown from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, guy by the name of Bruce Pearl.

``All the hires you make are risk hires,'' Hamilton said.

The safer hire would have been Rich Maloney of Michigan. He recently knocked rival Vanderbilt out of the NCAA Regionals.

The safer hire would have been the head coach at Louisville or the head coach at California-Irvine. Each took his team to this year's College World Series.

In eight years at Western Carolina, Raleigh didn't take the Catamounts to the College World Series. But given his resources what he accomplished might have been just as impressive.

At Western Carolina, Raleigh had six full scholarships – the maximum is 11.7 – and a $5,000 recruiting budget out in the middle of nowhere. He managed to take two teams to the NCAA Tournament. He managed to win three of his last five meetings against Georgia, three of his last four against Georgia Tech and two of his last four against Clemson.

In 2006, the Catamounts were the nation's only team to win road games against two College World Series teams (Georgia and Clemson).

With a limited budget at a small school, the Catamounts had an RPI of 35 while UT was at 73.

Given his resources, Raleigh did a terrific job.

But he didn't win the press conference and he didn't win over fans because he was a relative unknown from a smaller conference.

``If you're gonna hire him, why not just keep Delmonico?'' a fan told me.

Delmonico won 699 games and took Tennessee to three College World Series. But it was the feast-or-famine nature of the program that drove Hamilton crazy.

Raleigh vows to put a more consistent product on the field. He also vows that his teams will play hard, something UT didn't always do under Delmonico.

Under Delmonico, the Vols didn't always give a good effort, one player said.

``We didn't have the desire or drive to go out there play hard,'' said freshman pitcher Nick Hernandez. ``We didn't hustle much. We need a coach to give us the drive and push.''

That's a pretty sharp critique that would sting any coach. But that didn't stop the outpouring of criticism.

``If Tennessee fired Fulmer, Hamilton wouldn't hire a coach from Western Carolina,'' an angry fan said.

``I might,'' Hamilton said. ``I'll hire the best coach, I don't care where he's from. We'll do what's right for the student-athletes and the fans to get the right guy.'' Is Raleigh the right guy?

We'll find out, but not right away.

It would be unfair to judge Raleigh on his first season. The Vols just lost three first-round draft choices and didn't make the NCAA Tournament. Raleigh's first recruiting job is to keep the five high school signees that were drafted, one as high as the second round. His second recruiting priority is to recruit the state of Tennessee – hard. He believes there is enough in-state talent to win the SEC and get to Omaha.

He said he would recruit the junior college ranks, but probably not take more than a couple a year.

Raleigh also must hire a staff. He said he'd like to have one in place within 10 days. He said he would consider UT's two assistants, pitching coach Mike Bell and hitting coach Larry Simcox.

Next, Raleigh wants to upgrade the schedule. He wants to play Clemson and Georgia Tech and other top-notch opponents.

``The one thing our season-ticket holders can count on is we'll play a better schedule and attract some big names,'' he said. ``And the first thing I want them (opponents) to say is, `I don't want to come back.'''

Raleigh wants a physical team, a team that can hit home runs. He wants a blue-collar team that will hustle. And he wants a team that can get to Omaha. Can he do it? Who knows?

But he should at least be given a chance.

DELMONICO MADE $425,000

Raleigh's base will be more than Delmonico's. Raleigh's package is $275,000 -$155,000 base and $120,000 for radio, TV, apparel and a bat deal. He can make additional money with his camps and bonuses for academics and on-field achievements.

While Delmonico was the lowest-paid coach in the SEC, he wasn't hurting. Delmonico got $190,000 from UT - $120,000 base and $70,000 for radio, TV and apparel. He got about $150,000 for his baseball camps, Hamilton said. And he had a 10-year deal with Easton bat company that paid him about $75,000 a year. His total income each of the past two years: $425,000.

SEARCH FIRM GETS $40,000 PLUS

Hamilton said UT paid Parker Executive Search Firm of Atlanta $40,000, not counting expenses. He would not say how many coaches he interviewed.


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