CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Nine months after Rick Hart left for a position at SMU, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics department has finally found its new leader.
University of Tennessee senior associated AD David Blackburn was officially introduced as the Mocs' new director of athletics Tuesday afternoon, three days after his hire was announced.
And it didn't take long for Blackburn's personality to shine through after taking the podium to a warm round of applause.
"It's really humbling to see so many people come out and have so much care for a place. It's obviously a proud city and a proud school," an emotional Blackburn said. "I'm really touched by that. It really means a lot to me to be here.
"I hope you all know that and I hope you can feel that."
It was the first display of Blackburn's heart-on-his-sleeve personality, which has long made him a favorite in athletic administration circles. Long-time Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and current UT athletic director Dave Hart both described him as a "people person" who can make everyone feel at home and at ease.
His opening remarks were a genuine display of emotion from a Loudon, Tenn., native with family ties to the Tennessee Valley and a celebration of the marquee opportunity of his 22-year career.
"I'm a passionate person and I have a hard time hiding that. That's not exactly how I wanted that passion to come out, at the podium today, but I'm not embarrassed by it," Blackburn said. "I meant it when I went through the process that this was a job I truly wanted to have."
UTC chancellor-elect Dr. Steve Angle made it clear that feeling was mutual early in the search process.
"David quickly emerged as the guy we wanted for this job," Angle said. "From his standards and ethics to his personality and background. His commitment to compliance and his fit with our campus and community.
"He really is the whole package."
Now begins the task of making Chattanooga's entire athletics package better, and Blackburn vows to hit the ground running to make up for lost time.
Associate AD and senior women's administrator Laura Herron has served as interim athletic director since Hart's departure last summer. The search for a permanent placement was put on hold when chancellor Dr. Roger Brown retired in the fall and the university switched its focus to hiring Angle.
"We will work daily toward a relentless pursuit of continual improvement," Blackburn stated. "If you're not doing something to get better, than you're getting worse."
The first step in doing that his hiring two new head basketball coaches, a process that is already underway.
Blackburn met with both the women's and men's teams immediately after Tuesday's reception to get a feel for the programs and their players. He does not have a timetable for either hire, but made it clear he would take the time needed to find the right fit for both teams.
In the meantime, Blackburn will also begin building relationships across every level of the school and community.
"We will begin work immediately on building winners, and I'm not talking the scoreboard," he said. "I'm talking about winners in how you behave, how you treat people, and how you act when you're competing. We will show up and compete every day.
"The number one thing I want you to hear is from me today is 'Thank you very much, and go Mocs.'"
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