Good Evening Big Orange Nation!
I was especially glad to be back in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center today after spending three hours in the Charlotte airport last night waiting out a flight connection delay during my return from the annual NACDA athletics administrators convention in Orlando. We have now moved into our new Knoxville house, and I am grateful for my wonderful wife, Mary Lawrence Currie, who has managed the entire move-in process starting Monday morning without any help from yours truly. For the first time since March, the entire Currie family, including Charlie the dog, was under the same roof last night! We are blessed!
We’ve had an action-packed three weeks since I last wrote, so let’s get right to the updates.
BIG ORANGE FANS PACK CHATTANOOGA & MEMPHIS CARAVAN STOPS
Nearly 900 fans in Memphis this past Sunday night and almost 1000 in Chattanooga on June 3 have enjoyed our revitalized Big Orange Caravan stops this summer. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback on the new format, which makes it a bit easier for our fans to bring their whole family to celebrate Tennessee Athletics, hear from our coaches and get excited about the year to come. And, it’s important for us to take the time to thank our fans who work so hard and travel to Knoxville to support Volunteer student-athletes. At both events, I had fun walking around and meeting lots of Tennessee fans and hearing your enthusiasm for the Big Orange. Having the opportunity to look you in the eye and thank you for your passion and support is very important to all of us. Coaches Jones, Barnes and Warlick have signed a ton of autographs and posed for a bunch of “selfies,” too!
Next stop on the tour is Nashville, where the Big Orange Caravan links up with the Alumni Association’s 51st annual UT All-Sports Picnic. This event is limited to the first 400 fans to register, so be sure and sign up before it’s sold out. We continue to work on a date for a Tri-Cities 2017 stop and will share details as soon as we can finalize.
As I discussed in my letter on April 19, this fall we’ll have a group study future formats for the Caravan and our fan engagement outreach program–keep sending me your thoughts on what you liked or thought we might need to improve or do differently in the future.
CONGRATULATIONS ALUMNI SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS
All the $5 admission fees from the Chattanooga and Memphis BOC events went toward scholarship funds for students from those communities attending UT Knoxville. Congratulations to incoming freshmen Shelby Guthrie of Chattanooga and Xavier Grace and Michael Pham of Memphis, who were called to the stage at the respective events to receive scholarship certificates from their local alumni chapter. We’ll see you on The Hill soon!
THANK YOU: FIRST TENNESSEE BANK, PILOT/FLYING J, UT MEDICAL CENTER & REGAL ENTERTAINMENT
Monday evening, Mary Lawrence took a couple hour break from unpacking boxes to accompany me to a wonderful welcome reception for us hosted by four of our premier Tennessee corporate partners and leading community patrons at Knoxville’s beautiful downtown convention center. The athletics program, University of Tennessee and entire city of Knoxville are very fortunate to have the progressive leadership of First Tennessee Bank, Pilot/Flying J, UT Medical Center & Regal Entertainment!
VITELLO TO LEAD TENNESSEE BASEBALL
If you haven’t had a chance to watch last week’s introductory press conference for new Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello, I encourage you to check it out. In addition to an incredibly accomplished resume, his poise and articulate nature serve as further proof that he is prepared for the challenge of steering our baseball program back to prominence.
As Coach Vitello continues to build his staff in the coming weeks, I’m confident our fanbase–which I know has hungered for championship-level performance on the baseball diamond–will have its baseball fervor reignited as it looks ahead to what’s in store in 2018 and beyond. I’m looking forward to many fun springs at Lindsey Nelson Stadium!
Before I move on to another topic, I’d like to congratulate our five Vols who were selected in this week’s MLB Draft: Jordan Rodgers (Atlanta), Kyle Serrano (Houston), Zach Warren (Philadelphia), Hunter Martin (Houston) and Jeff Moberg (Colorado).
BOWERMAN SEMIFINALIST COLEMAN LEADS CHARGE AT NCAA TRACK & FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan led a group of 14 Vols to the NCAA Outdoor Championship last week in Eugene, Oregon. The men’s team finished in a tie for seventh place, the fourth consecutive championship (indoor/outdoor) at which the they have finished in the national top 10.
Overall, UT student-athletes earned 12 first- and second-team All-American honors: Shania Collins (200m), Chelsea Blaase (10,000m), Christian Coleman (100m, 200m), Nathan Strother (400m, 4x400m), Zach Long (5000m), Mustaqeem Williams (4x400m), Ari Cogdell (4x400m), Malik Elion (4x400m), Cameron Brown (Hammer) and Seth Whitener (Hammer). Chelsea, a Tennessee graduate and Academic All-American, finishes her fantastic career as a nine-time All-American! Additionally, assistant coach for sprints, Tim Hall, was named the USTFCCCA National Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year.
Tops amongst the highlights though, was Christian. He won National Championships in the 100m and 200m dashes to become the second person to ever sweep the four sprinting championships (60m indoor, 200m indoor, 100m outdoor, 200m outdoor) in one season, joining VFL and Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin. Tennessee is now tied for the second-most outdoor sprinting titles in NCAA history, as the Vols have 10 combined 100m and 200m championships. In the prelims, Christian put himself in some rare air as he set the collegiate record in the 100m by crossing the finish line in 9.82 seconds (Usain Bolt won Olympic gold in 2016 with a time of 9.81). Only three Americans have ever posted a faster time. Christian is now the only person to have a place on all four sprinting collegiate top-10 lists–and, incredibly, he appears in the top two on all four lists. Amazing!
Christian has also been racking up awards, as just this week he added the USTFCCCA National Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year to go along with his National Indoor Athlete of the Year Award from earlier this year. He was also named SEC Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year. Needless to say, he is a semifinalist and one of the nation’s top candidates for the prestigious Bowerman Award (track & field’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy).
Fan voting for the Bowerman runs from June 22-30, and I know Big Orange Nation has what it takes to put him over the top, so make sure to #VoteColeman and share the following link once fan voting goes live next week: UTSports.com/Coleman4Bowerman/
SALUTE TO GREG HULEN
On more of a bittersweet note, this Wednesday was Associate Athletics Director/Chief Development Officer Greg Hulen’s last day on staff here at Tennessee. Greg has accepted a wonderful opportunity as the Executive Vice President for Seminole Boosters, Inc. at his alma mater, Florida State.
Back in 2005, we brought Greg to Knoxville, and I have been so proud to watch him grow into one of the very best and most innovative fundraisers in the country. During his 12-year tenure with the Tennessee Fund, Greg made an enormous impact on both athletics and academics here at UT. His efforts were instrumental in the fundraising, planning design and construction of several facilities familiar to our fans and student-athletes, including the Neyland Stadium Master Plan, West Club, Tennessee Terrace, Thompson-Boling Arena renovation, Tom Black Track renovation, Pratt Pavilion, Joan Cronan Volleyball Center, Regal Soccer Stadium and Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Greg also directed the recent Campaign for Comprehensive Excellence, which raised $163 million, and served as our sport administrator for the softball program this past season. The entire Tennessee Athletics family wishes Greg, his wife, Lyndsey, and their children, Colton, Josey and Wyatt, all the best in Tallahassee!
UT FOUNDATION BOARD IN TOWN
Tonight, I’m heading over the Lauricella Center in Neyland Stadium to visit with the UT Foundation Board of Directors, which is meeting over the next few days. Led by Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs and Programs/UT Foundation President and CEO Rickey McCurry, the Foundation Board is currently chaired by Ron Turner. Did you know that all gifts to Tennessee Athletics are also considered gifts to the University of Tennessee Foundation? I am proud to be part of a collaborative effort, led by Dr. DiPietro and Chancellor Davenport and our Foundation Board, to move UT forward.
Speaking of the Lauricella Center, I had a wonderful phone conversation several weeks ago with Betty Lauricella, whose late husband, Hank, was our legendary 1951 Heisman runner-up. Betty, a distinguished 1953 graduate of UT’s College of Education, is doing well in New Orleans and continues to follow the Vols closely!
As we all know, upkeep on a nearly 100-year-old stadium takes lots of time and money–and you can see lots of rust on steel at Neyland Stadium these days. Starting this month, over the next three summers we are spending close to $3 million sanding and painting structural steel, paid for from department revenue (i.e. your ticket money!). Of course, this is kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge–you start on one end, and by the time you get to the other end it’s time to start at the beginning again. Work is underway on the backside of the south end upper deck and on the video board structure, with additional work set to take place on the east and upper north areas. Thanks to those who work in the buildings around the stadium for their patience during this process.
CAMPUS SPOTLIGHT: VOLUNTEERING WITH THE VOLS
This week saw the beginning of the second annual “Volunteering with the Vols” initiative. It’s a really cool series of summer community service projects taking place in fourteen cities around the country. There may be an event taking place near you; you’d be welcome to jump in and serve.
I’ve learned that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has been working more closely with Alumni Affairs in recent years, collaborating in an attempt to enhance UT Knoxville’s student recruitment efforts. This “Volunteering with the Vols” programming is one way to strengthen those ties and help new Vols get acquainted with our alumni in their area. It’s yet another example of the many great things taking place within our campus community under Chancellor Davenport’s leadership.