Mike Hamilton resigns as AD

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Embattled Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, conceding that he'd become a lightning rod for negative publicity for the university, announced his resignation on Tuesday.

Hamilton's resignation is effective June 30, although he will still attend the NCAA's Committee on Infractions hearing in Indianapolis this Saturday. Tennessee has been charged with major violations in football and men's basketball.

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek said Hamilton was not forced out and that it was Hamilton's decision to step down. Cheek also said he did not try and talk Hamilton out of his decision. Hamilton will still receive a buyout of $1,335,000.

Increasingly, Hamilton had come under intense fire by Tennessee fans, who blamed him for what has been a mounting series of setbacks both on and off the field in the three major sports -- football, men's basketball and baseball.

"We have a great staff, many of them are standing around this room, and we are positioned for success," Hamilton said at Tuesday's press conference. "We have been in a period of turmoil that needs to end, and if I can help end that turmoil by stepping aside, I thought that was important."

Promoted to replace Doug Dickey in 2003 as Tennessee's athletic director, Hamilton built a reputation as a widely respected fund-raiser nationally and also spearheaded a drive to upgrade the Vols' athletic facilities, including Neyland Stadium.

But during Hamilton's tenure, he fired longtime football coach Phillip Fulmer and replaced him with Lane Kiffin, who stayed one tumultuous season before bolting for USC. It was during Kiffin's 14 months on campus that the Vols racked up the major violations that now have the football program under the NCAA's gun.

In addition, men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl was fired in March after admittedly lying to NCAA investigators, and Hamilton has also fired two head baseball coaches on his watch, including Todd Raleigh most recently.

"My family and I are extremely grateful for the opportunity Mike afforded us at Tennessee," Kiffin said in a statement posted on USC's official Twitter account.

Hamilton's hiring of Pearl in 2005 turned out to be a popular one after the basketball coach lead the Vols to their first No. 1 ranking and first NCAA regional final in history. However, Pearl fell from grace after admitting he lied to the NCAA during its investigation and committing additional violations.

"I went to work every day trying to reward Mike Hamilton for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime," Pearl said in a statement to ESPN.com. "I'm grateful he brought me to Tennessee. For the majority of the time I was his men's basketball coach, we built something very special and I am sorry that some of my mistakes and the results from them contributed to all that our athletic family and university have been through during this rough stretch."

By stepping aside now and not waiting until after the Committee on Infractions hearing, Hamilton said he hopes that helps him professionally and also helps Tennessee avoid more serious sanctions.

"If I decided to go down this road, I didn't want it to be because of what happens in Indianapolis," Hamilton said. "It's also my belief and those I talk with that going into the Committee on Infractions meeting with a new basketball coach, a new football coach and the prospects of a new athletic director is not bad for the University of Tennessee. I can't say it's good, necessarily, but it's not bad."

Hamilton said he's been contemplating stepping aside for several months. The turmoil and turnover among the big sports from football to basketball to baseball put Hamilton in a no-win situation, according to a source close to the situation. He approached Cheek last week in Destin, Fla., at the SEC spring meetings and offered his resignation

The source told ESPN.com Hamilton came out of the SEC meetings knowing he had to prepare for the Indianapolis Committee on Infractions hearing on June 10-11 and that it would be better to be there as a former athletic director than one who was in charge of a program in trouble.

"I did not try and talk him out of it," said Cheek, adding that he was pleased with Hamilton's job performance.

Many others in and around the program were not pleased, though, and had let those feelings be known to Cheek and anybody else who was listening for much of the last year.

Cheek said Tennessee would conduct a national search for Hamilton's successor and that an interim athletic director would be named later this week. Cheek said he hopes to have a new athletic director on board by the start of the 2011 football season.

"We want somebody to come in and build on the strong foundation that already exists, and we also need stability," Cheek said. "We need to stabilize our leadership team and move ourselves aggressively forward in the directions we want to go, which means we're going to be a better place in the future than we are today."

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press and ESPN.com reporters Andy Katz and Joe Schad contributed to this report.