CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Mike Buddie may be considered the "dark horse" contender to be named the new athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Now an associate AD at his alma mater, Wake Forest, the former Major League Baseball player boasts fewer years of experience in sports administration than his counterparts, David Blackburn and Lee Fowler.
He's also the only one of the three finalists with few ties to Tennessee, considering Blackburn is from Loudon and works at UT and Fowler is a former AD at Middle Tennessee State.
But that doesn't mean he feels any less prepared for the job.
"My background is unique in this profession, and I think that affords me some credibility with coaches and student-athletes," said Buddie, who played college baseball at Wake Forest before embarking on a 13-year professional baseball career that included stints with the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees. "The perception, positive or negative, is I've been there as a student-athlete and can relate well to the coaches. I certainly do not have the experience of a Lee Fowler, but I have been exposed to quite a few things.
"The great thing about working at Wake Forest is that because it's a small institution, I've had to wear many hats. That has certainly sped up my learning curve as far as gaining experience."
Buddie hasn't made a run at many athletic director positions in a budding career, but he knows a great opportunity when he sees it.
The 42-year-old described UTC as a rare opportunity with a wide-variety of appeal.
"You look at the conference affiliation, its history of success and its region, and it's rare that all three of those get a 'thumbs up,'" Buddie said. "This is a place I'd love to raise my family. There's a new chancellor coming in, which to me is a positive because you get a chance to mesh your values with that new leader.
"Then also here you get a chance to come in and make a key hire with the two basketball programs to kind of put your stamp on the programs. It's almost a perfect storm as far as athletic director jobs go."
Buddie noted the obvious difficulties in fund-raising and the vast difference in budget size between an ACC school in Wake Forest and a mid-major like Chattanooga, but he insists the latter isn't as a great a challenge as it seems.
"Of course there are financial challenges. Wake Forest has a bigger budget, but in comparison to the teams we compete against in the ACC, UTC is in a lot better position," Buddie said. "UTC is positioned in the conference to really be competitive, and really that's all you can ask for.
"You want to be able to compete against your peers and your conference foes on a level playing field."
Buddie's first visit to Chattanooga came over Easter weekend with his family. He was already in Atlanta on business, and made the short trip North after being notified by UTC's search committee that he was a contender for the job.
He said he contacted Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein to learn a little more about UTC as a school and athletic program, and was quickly blown away by what he discovered.
"From the outside looking in, what's impressive about this department is its history of success and its people," Buddie said. "You don't hold on to a coach like Coach (Wes) Moore for as long as you do unless you're doing something right. You can tell people want to be here.
"But the fact there's such a history of athletic success with the Sweet 16 team and the young man playing in the Masters last week, these are accomplishments you can hang your hat on and things you can use to recruit student-athletes and coaches."
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