AD Dickey among the best nationally

Tuesday, March 20, 2001 at 1:00am

The announcement this week that Doug Dickey would retire in 2002 as University of Tennessee Athletic Director could have a monumental effect on UT athletics in the future.

If Doug Dickey is not the No. 1 athletic director in the country, he's certainly one of the top three or four. Under his direction, the UT Athletic Department has developed into one of the most outstanding in America. And that would be in the development of competitive athletic teams and facilities.

Let me add in terms of balanced budget and revenue generating aspects as well. While many top schools are in the red as far as major college athletic programs are concerned, Tennessee is very much in the black.

And keep in mind, no state tax dollars are involved in Tennessee athletic programs. UT Athletics actually turn over millions of dollars to the school. They donate $1 million a year to the general scholarship fund, for instance.

There are still those who hold it against Doug Dickey for leaving Tennessee and returning to his alma mater, Florida, in the late 1960s. And there are some who point out that he might not be a great "people person." But for those in the know, Dickey may be virtually impossible to replace.

I hope UT President Gilley's statement that he'll conduct a "nationwide search" is just PR talk. There are only a handful of men out there who might be qualified for this position. It has to be someone who knows absolutely everything about UT's historic place in athletics.

Tennessee and the Southeastern Conference are very unique. Because someone who might have been successful at Brigham Young or New Mexico State, or God forbid, somebody from the ACC, would not necessarily be successful at Tennessee.

It's got to be someone who knows about General Neyland, Bowden Wyatt, who knows what it looks like, feels like, and smells like on a Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. It's gotta be someone who understands the passion of a Tennessee fan. Someone who understands why a tough 250 man would be reduced to tears by a loss to Florida, or why a Vol fan would go to his final resting place in an orange and white casket.

For these reasons, President Gilley, we don't need a "national search." Two men who come to mind who I would highly recommend are former University of Tennessee player, Carl Johnson and former UT Assistant Athletic Director, Mitch Barnhardt.

Johnson played and has had two sons to play for the Vols, and is a very successful businessman. Barnhardt got his administrative training at Doug Dickey's knee, leaving UT to become the Athletic Director at Oregon State University. In a brief span under his direction, that program has come from obscurity to national prominence.

Thank goodness, Doug Dickey has agreed to stick around for three years in an advisory capacity after stepping down as Athletic Director. His successor would be very wise to listen to his counseling.

It would appear that Dickey has one more major decision to make before leaving ... and that of course would be the head coach of Men's Basketball. And barring an unbelievable run in the NCAA, I now believe that Doug might make the painful decision to replace Jerry Green.

Here in the midst of March Madness, I know many of you are spending some quality time thinking about the Tennessee Titans.

At first report at the release of several players due to salary cap restrictions, I have become a little more pessimistic. With the loss of those players, and now the departure of defensive end Kenny Holmes, I cannot see this team being as good as they were last year.

For money reasons, the Titans pretty much admit that Holmes' replacement will not be of equal caliber. Couple that with the loss of fullback Lorenzo Neal and starting safety Marcus Robertson, and it makes you wonder.

Another disturbing factor is the upgrade of already powerful Baltimore. Not only did the Super Bowl Champions retain almost everyone, they have added to their arsenal. A big upgrade for the Ravens by signing quarterback Elvis Gurbach.

The Ravens also signed former Jaguar offensive tackle Leon Sircey. With Sircey and Jonathan Ogdon, Baltimore now has the best offensive tackle tandem in the NFL. With Jamal Lewis running behind that offensive line, it's a rather frightening thought. In fact, you look around the AFC, the whole scene is frightening.

I think without doubt, it's the toughest division in football. But we're fortunate that the Titans has a great front office and a super coach in Jeff Fisher. So with the right bounce of the ball and a little luck here and there, it should be another rocking season at Adelphia.

Under the heading of "things that disturb me"

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