Tuesday, September 16, 2014 · 3:28 p.m.
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KNOXVILLE – With the Vols in search of a new head football coach, University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek pledged his support to the athletics department on Tuesday evening.

“As we face a transition in our football program, I want to make it clear that we support a mission of comprehensive excellence in our athletics department,” Cheek said via a release. “Under the leadership of Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director Dave Hart, we will do the things required to return our team to national prominence.

“As we begin our search for a new coach, I have assured Dave that he will have the support and resources he needs to be successful.”

One tangible step announced by Cheek was the reinvestment of money the athletics department has contributed back to the University in recent years. Approximately $6 million per year will be returned to the athletics department for the next three years.

That will give the athletics department an additional $18 million to help offset the costs it will incur during the coaching transition and help ease its overall financial situation.

“The money was committed under different circumstances and we now need to allow athletics to use these dollars to attain financial stability and invest in the future,” Cheek said.

Hart identified financial problems as a concern at his press conference confirming the dismissal of former coach Derek Dooley on Sunday, but said he believed Cheek and the University administration were working to help with the situation.

“I have talked to the Chancellor at length about that,” Hart said. “We have a 1.9 million dollar reserve which in the SEC is unheard of. We compete against people who have reserves of about 50-100 million dollars. We are in a tough position financially.”

Tuesday’s announcement should help enable Tennessee to pursue coaching candidates without excessive financial limitations put on the search. Dooley made approximately $2 million a year. Alabama coach Nick Saban is the highest paid coach nationally at approximately $5.5 million per season.

The Vols will likely need to spend between $3 and $5 million per season to lure a top candidate to Knoxville.

Cheek emphasized that this move does not represent a lack of commitment to UT students, but rather a commitment to strengthening the athletics department in an effort to raise the overall level of the school.

“I know that winning championships and competing at the highest level lifts the national profile of the University of Tennessee,” he said. “As chancellor, I am committed to winning both on the field and in the classroom.”

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