The Chattanooga Mocs' quick exit from the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament for the third straight year means one thing: the entire program needs a major facelift. Part of that overhauling is already set to take place as renovations to 31-year-old McKenzie Arena will soon be underway. The other part of that major overhaul is the current coaching staff and, of course, head coach John Shulman.
I have known John Shulman for a long time - for 23 years as a matter of fact. I first met him when he was a graduate assistant coach at East Tennessee State as the Bucs were beginning their great run in the late 1980s. I was doing Southern Conference basketball games on television as part of my college hoops free lance package.
The young Shulman was an energetic and enthusiastic coach who at first glance would appear to be a sophisticated “hoops junky.” He knew the game, and he was young enough to relate to his players. Those qualities made him invaluable to Coach Alan LeForce when he replaced Les Robinson in Johnson City. As the Bucs closed in on four straight SoCon titles, Shulman’s star began to shine even brighter. He would latch on to Jeff Lebo as his chief assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, and came to UTC with Lebo in 2002. When Coach Lebo left the Mocs after just two seasons for the greener SEC pastures at Auburn, there was no doubt who would replace Lebo as the next UTC head coach; it would be John Shulman.
In his initial season as the Mocs head man in 2004-2005, his team would score an historic upset of Tennessee in Knoxville. The Mocs won the SoCon Tournament for the first time since Mack McCarthy’s last squad advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 1997, and things were really hopping at UTC. Through the next few seasons, Shulman’s relationship with new Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl led to an appearance by the Vols at McKenzie Arena as UT came to town ranked second in the polls. The Big Orange was pushed to the limit before rallying for a late victory, and again things were good for the Mocs. But since then things have steadily gone downhill. Four straight non-winning seasons, including back to back losing marks, has led the UTC fan base to scream for Shulman to be replaced.
Coach Shulman has one year left on his current contract that pays him just under $140,000 a year. UTC has an interim athletic director and their newly hired chancellor Dr. Steve Angle doesn’t start until July 1. So…..my questions are, who would fire Shulman, and then who would hire his replacement? In today’s ultra competitive college basketball environment, July would be much too late to hire a new head coach. Unless the powers at UTC give interim AD Laura Herron the authority to hire and fire, this entire scenario becomes more and more complicated.
A much simpler solution would be for Shulman to resign. The university will still owe him one year’s salary, which means someone must come up with $140,000 to buy him out. In the great scheme of things in college athletics, $140,000 is not much money at all, but in the real world of mid-major college sports, that’s a lot of dough. And if John Shulman resigns, UTC will be faced with hiring a new AD and a new head basketball coach. Firing and hiring a new coach in college athletics is never easy. (Just ask Tennessee) At UTC, it appears to be a very difficult process.
I love John Shulman. He will be a success no matter where he lands after leaving UTC. He has a beautiful wife and a wonderful family. And as much as I love John and his family, I will painfully admit, it’s time for him and the Mocs to part ways. With the major renovations ahead for aging McKenzie Arena, we need to do a complete overhaul and give the Mocs a facelift - one that includes the coaching staff.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).