CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Laura Herron embraced and enjoyed many aspects of being the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's interim athletic director over the past nine months.
However, there are still a few she doesn't mind turning over to the newly-hired David Blackburn.
"I'm excited to turn the reigns over to David. If nothing else, I want to get a picture in the newspaper where I'm smiling and not looking like a mug shot," she joked during Blackburn's on-campus reception Tuesday.
Blackburn officially started his UTC run Wednesday, marking the end of Herron's longer-than-anticipated fill-in role.
UTC's senior women's administrator and senior associate AD in charge of compliance accepted the role upon the departure of Rick Hart last July, but her stay was extended when the AD search was put on hold as the school searched for a replacement for retiring chancellor, Dr. Roger Brown, early in the fall.
"They told me it would be about three months or so, then it turned into nine," Herron cracked.
Being the face of the entire athletics department was quite a change for Herron, but it grew on her.
The former UTC athletic trainer had never given too much thought to being a full-fledged AD across 19 years in sports administration, but this experience may have changed outlook on the future.
"I certainly wasn't that comfortable being out front, but you learn how to do it and get a little more comfortable with it, though I still can't say it's my favorite thing to do," Herron said. "It was pretty much just trial by fire. You deal with what comes up and remember you're representing the university, so you try to do things in a positive manner.
"I've learned a lot about the internal workings. I know I have a lot more to learn about the external, but I'm looking forward to learning that with David."
And Blackburn is looking forward to learning from Herron, who received arguably the loudest cheer during Tuesday's reception.
Both Blackburn and chancellor-elect Dr. Steve Angle praised Herron's efforts during a very busy and very important transition period for UTC athletics, which included cutting ties with veteran basketball coach John Shulman and attending key Southern Conference meetings regarding realignment after the departure of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
"It's hard to do what she was asked to do," said Blackburn. "To selflessly do that, it takes a special person. Now being down here, I can see why she's been successful and I'm going to lean heavily, as I should, on Laura."
And that starts immediately as Blackburn begins the search for two new basketball coaches.
He has no timetable to hire replacements for Shulman and Wes Moore, noting the importance in finding the best fit for both over making the quickest hire possible.
Regardless of how long the search takes, the fact that it's underway marks a huge step forward for both Herron and UTC athletics following lengthy uncertainty.
"We've kind of been treading water for nine months. It's been a great team effort, but now we have that leader to give us the direction we need to move in," Herron said. "I happily printed off a whole bunch of resumes for him. We'll get ready to go through those and find a new coach."
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