Former NC State Assistant Basketball Coach, Buzz Peterson, was relieved of his duties at the University of Tennessee today. The news was broken on Sunday night but was made official Monday. The UT Athletics Website wasted no time removing Peterson’s picture and biography from the site.
Buzz is UT’s 5th coach in the last 20 years. Despite what GoVols.com describes as a “revolving door” of coaches, beginning with Wade Houston (1989-94), followed by Kevin O’Neill (1994-97), Jerry Green (1997-2001) and Peterson (2001-05)..the Tennesean takes the position that UT errs on the side of caution too often before making necessary coaching changes.
Peterson was 60-59 at Tennessee after four years at the helm of the Volunteers’ program, which plays third fiddle in Knoxville behind UT Football and Pat Summit’s Lady Vols Basketball program. His contract is worth $769,500 a year and runs through the 2008-09 season, which will require UT to pay a buyout of $1.36 million just four years after Jerry Green accepted a buyout in excess of $800,000.
Buzz was hired in April of 2001 to replace Jerry Green, who was ousted after taking the Vols to the NCAA tournament four straight seasons.
Buzz is extremely well-liked off the court, but has struggled for consistency and victories on the court. In fact, a recent poll at KnoxNews.com indicated that only 31% of voters supported the firing of Peterson. Recommendations for retaining Peterson have recently poured into AD Mark Hamilton’s office in recent weeks; included supported from UT Lady Vols’ coach Pat Summitt and Peterson’s college coach at North Carolina, Dean Smith. (This kinda makes those people that think that coaches whose job PERFORMANCE is only analyzed for based on their personality look even more ridiculous, eh?)
Just two weeks ago, a newspaper in Nashville predicted Peterson’s removal in a very interesting article, “UT’s Sagging Attendance Reveals Buzz is gone” by Jimmy Hyams. The entire article was very insightful and I recommend you reading it.
Mark Hamilton was hired as UT’s Athletics Director in 2003. Irony exists here because NC State AD, Lee Fowler coveted the job and interviewed for it before being passed over. Fowler could do himself a favor and learn an awful lot from the guy that actually got the job that he wanted. Perhaps there was a reason for UT’s selection of Hamilton over Fowler? I have randomly cut some excerpts from the previously linked article below. See if you can spot any differences between the way that that Hamilton runs the UT Athletics Department and the way that Fowler runs NC State’s:
“Hamilton said the reaction he’s had from UT fans has been about 3-to-1 in support of keeping Peterson, a likeable coach who is barely over .500 in four years and has yet to get the Vols into the NCAA Tournament.
Hamilton said Peterson’s plan for having success next season is “critical,” and carries about as much weight as how the Vols finish this season. “Inevitably, wins and losses ultimately have a higher percentage of impact on a decision of this nature,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also said he expects the basketball program to make the NCAA Tournament two or three times in the next five years and seven or eight times over 10 years. He said if Peterson returns next season, the bar will be raised for 2005-06.
Hamilton said he is close to Peterson but not so close that he can’t make an objective decision. “You have to have a relationship with your coaches,” Hamilton said. “I won’t ever apologize for trying to build a relationship with coaches. I think that’s vital to understanding the coaches.”
Hamilton disagreed with those that say you can’t win in men’s basketball at a football school. “It’s been done at Michigan, Texas, Florida and other places,” Hamilton said. “What it boils down to is having the right coach, the right facility, the right finances, the right resources, the right fan base. All of those things we have an opportunity to have at the University of Tennessee.”
Peterson hasn’t found it. It’s alarming that Peterson doesn’t have more wins at this stage than Wade Houston had in four years. Peterson was 59-57 after Saturday’s loss at Arkansas. Houston was 60-68 after four seasons, had reached the final of the SEC Tournament and won seven post-regular season games compared to Peterson’s one.
The ESPN commentator said if UT does make a change, it’s time to go for a big-name coach and not another mid-major guy. “UT needs a proven commodity,” he said. “It can’t take chances.”
He said he’d go hard after Rick Barnes of Texas or Kelvin Sampson of Oklahoma. “The demographics are the same [for UT, Texas and Oklahoma],” he said. “Both have been at football schools and are not blown away by that.”
While Tennessee’s basketball tradition has been woeful over the past 20-plus years, that doesn’t mean the job is a stepping stone. In fact, it has never served as a stepping stone by any coach. “