Perhaps no sports journalist in East Tennessee has been so widely absorbed the past 30 years as Jimmy Hyams, a popular Knoxville radio and television sports pundit plus an award-winning print reporter and columnist, whose focus has been Tennessee Volunteers athletics.
Hyams, a native of Louisiana whose specific UT focus has centered on football and men’s basketball, mixed in some wit as featured speaker during The Rotary Club of Farragut’s weekly meeting.
Acknowledging a high school exchange student from Finland in the audience, “All the way from Finland” just to hear him speak, “I appreciate that,” Hyams said to laughter Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 18, in Fox Den Country Club ballroom.
Hyams said about covering the search for UT’s soon-to-be vacant athletics director post, “I’ve covered a lot of stories in all the years I’ve been doing this, but I’ve never covered a story where I’ve had more conflicting stories and reports about what’s going on.”
For example, Hyams refuted rumors that former Vols Football head coach Phillip Fulmer is all but hired. “They’re not that far along as far as picking an athletic director. … I’m not saying that Phillip Fulmer won’t eventually be the AD, but right not that is an inaccurate story,” Hyams said. “… On this AD search I think you can expect to wait until April or May. There is a chance maybe they move it forward to March.”
Looking back on Tennessee Football, “In my opinion Tennessee should have won the East[ern Division of the SEC] last year and they should have won it [head coach Butch Jones’] third year [in 2015] and didn’t,” Hyams said. “When you don’t win the East when the rest of the East is not very good, I’ve got concerns about that.
“I think year five under Butch Jones will tell us a lot,” he added about Tennessee Football’s 2017 season.
Hyams said about replacing quarterback Josh Dobbs, “If I had to guess I would say [Jarrett] Guarantano would win the job because of his mobility.”
On the bottom line next season, Hyams said about Jones’ job status, “Anything below eight wins, there’s not a question to me. I’d make a change.”
On Jones dealing with the media, Hyams said, “Every now and again he gets frustrated with the media, and so he’ll say, ‘I know what you all are saying and I’ve got your names in my back pocket.’”
For example, Hyams recalled reporting that among the 56 players Jones signed in his first two UT recruiting classes, “26 did not complete their eligibility. So when I wrote it I was not received that well.”
Hyams praised Hart’s ability to rebuilt UT’s Athletic Department financial reserves, building it from “about $1.9 million, which for a $100 million athletic department is not that much, … to between $15 or $20 million now.”
At UT’s reserve low point, “The next worst was Mississippi State at $14.4 million,” Hyams said.
On the top end, “What’s the reserve at Alabama? It’s over a $100 million,” Hyams said.
However, Hart’s failures according to Hyams have included “elevating the all-sports program at Tennessee.”
Rating fall sports programs in 2016 among Division 1-A schools nationwide, “Tennessee was not only last in the SEC, 14th out of 14, but they were about 113th in the nation,” Hyams said.
Hyams said he didn’t understand why UT officials acted so quickly to announce current AD Dave Hart’s departure, which is June 30.
“Why did you have to announce that when they did [last summer]. If you knew you weren’t going to make a move until you hired a new chancellor, why wouldn’t you wait and announce Dave Hart’s [June departure] now or next month or Feb. 15 when Chancellor [Beverly] Davenport comes in here?” he said.
As a result of UT fans knowing for several months about the vacancy, “There’s been a lot of angst. … ‘Why has it taken so long?’” Hyams said about fans.
Giving his own choice, Hyams said, “I think a good combination for Tennessee would be David Blackburn [currently UT-Chattanooga AD] as the athletic director and then Phillip Fulmer hired as an assistant athletic director in charge of Football Operations.
“And [Fulmer] could help Butch Jones.”
Also talking about Tennessee men’s and women’s basketball programs, Hyams surprised many listeners with a Lady Vols factoid.
When legendary coach Pat Summitt took over as UT Women’s Basketball head coach in the mid-1970s, “any idea what their record was” the previous season? “25-2, I had no idea,” Hyams said about previous head coach Margaret Hudson’s final season.
As for UT Baseball, “If [head coach] Dave Serrano does not finish higher than 10th in the SEC, there’s a good chance he’ll be gone,” Hyams said.