In the span of two days, Trevecca Nazarene laid the groundwork for what it believes is a bright athletic future.
The cornerstone of it all is C.M. Newton.
The Basketball Hall of Famer who was a head coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt as well as athletics director at Kentucky was commissioned by Trevecca to perform a comprehensive review of its athletics program, which led to its successful bid — announced Monday — for membership in NCAA Division II.
On Tuesday, Mark Elliott, who has a direct connection to and received direct input from Newton, was introduced as the school’s new athletics director. He replaced Brenda Patterson, who held the position for four years before she was reassigned within the university.
“C.M. Newton told me once that the job seeks the person, the person doesn’t seek the job,” Elliott said. “With that said … you have to have at least a modicum of experience to at least consider something.”
Elliott’s experience and connection to Middle Tennessee are significant, to say the least.
He played both basketball and baseball at Vanderbilt and then spent five years as a minor league prospect in the New York Mets’ system. He was the boys basketball coach at Montgomery Bell Academy before he returned to Vanderbilt, where he worked as an assistant coach and director of basketball operations. Eventually he moved into sales management with Franklin-based Fitness Systems and most recently served as director of basketball operations at A-Game Sportsplex in Franklin.
He did not initially seek the job at Trevecca, however.
It said it was a phone call from women’s basketball coach Gary Van Atta that fostered the idea. Similar calls followed from others at the university, where the third of his five children spent the last season as a graduate assistant and the previous four as a player with the men’s basketball team.
“We always talk about Trevecca being the best-kept secret in town — well, we don’t want to be a secret anymore,” Van Atta said. “I think with Mark leading our troops here, we can become a household name.
“… If athletics is going to be the front porch of the university, I want him right there holding open the screen door.”
Elliott said there was no ‘A-ha moment’ at which he decided the job was something he wanted to pursue.
Instead, he called it “a series of nows’ that transpired as he made his way through the search process, which began with more than 100 candidates that was narrowed to 10 semifinalists and, eventually, four finalists who went through the interview process.
“I will say this — the university took a risk on hiring somebody that did not have athletic director experience,” Elliott said. “They had some people who were applicants and had tremendous experience.
“… I have a lot of athletic experience, in basketball and baseball; a lot of coaching experience, in basketball and baseball; a lot of business experience; and then a lot of sports management experience. … There came a point where I said, ‘I can do this. I want to do this.’”
Of course, that was sometime after he sought input from — among others — C.M. Newton.
“He was the one who actually said, ‘I think this will be a great fit,’” Elliott said. “He hired me at Vanderbilt and I worked with him for two years there. I’ve just kept up with him a little bit by little bit over the years … but he was very instrumental in saying, ‘Yes, it was a fit.’”
Newton never worked at Trevecca, but it’s likely no one ever has had such a profound effect on the athletics department. So far, at least.