The smell of fresh paint filled the air in Chattanooga’s McKenzie Arena on Monday as program boosters, under a new points system, were able to come in for the first time after recent renovations to the facility and choose their seats for men’s basketball games.
The lower bowl (blue seats) have been upgraded, with 800 padded seats, complete with drink holders, in the middle. The second tier of the arena (gold seats) were repainted, giving the arena, which opened in 1982, a gleaming makeover on top of the new floor that was installed by Chattanooga-based Prater’s in 2012.
“We have great facilities,” said new UTC athletic director David Blackburn. “We have no excuses in basketball. I haven’t seen all the facilities [in the Southern Conference] but, I would rank ours high on the list. For us, that’s a competitive advantage.”
The arena’s seating capacity, once 10,928, will drop a bit because the blue tier seats were expanded for greater comfort.
“Certainly negligible,” Blackburn said. “And well worth it to provide our fans with more comfort.”
Monday’s priority seating rollout displaced a few fans from their long-time vantage points, but Blackburn says the program, begun well before he was hired, was a necessary step.
“They started a priority points system about two years ago, and I applaud it,” Blackburn said. “I would have done the same thing. It’s what most schools use for donor rankings. With the reconfiguration of the seats, it was time to use that priority system in a reseat program.”
Interest is high in UTC basketball, both men’s and women’s, because of two astute hires orchestrated by Blackburn in his first couple of weeks on the job last May. The men’s team has already sold more season ticket than last year, largely on the promise brought by 30-year-old coach Will Wade, who has wasted no time making his way around the area, speaking to any group, shaking hands, attending Chattanooga Lookouts game and the Riverbend Festival, anything to spread his message.
“He’s taken the bull by the horns,” Blackburn said. “He’s been very aggressive. He’s clearly got a plan, and clearly been around things that maybe haven’t worked and have worked. So he knows what he wants to do. He’s energetic, he’s organized, he’s disciplined. He brings everything I think our program needs.”
New women’s coach Jim Foster, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June, is the polar opposite of Wade in terms of experience—he’s won conference championships as a head coach at Saint Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State—and demeanor. Foster has a scholarly, reserved manner, but inside he’s no less intense than Wade.
“He too has been aggressive [in installing his culture and system],” Blackburn said. “He’s just done it in a more subtle manner than coach Wade. That’s his personality.”
There’s also a dramatic difference between the programs that Wade and Foster takes over. Wade’s was down; the Mocs lost 40 games the last two seasons. Foster inherits the premier women’s program in the Southern Conference.
“Jim takes over a proven program, and he gives us the reasonable assumption that he can keep it rolling,” Blackburn said. “He’s won big everywhere he’s been.
“With Will, I’m a bit worried people will expect him to wave a wand and it’ll magically get better. It doesn’t work that way.
“He’s trying to change a mindset. I think our players have really bought into that. It’ll get incrementally better. His style of play, his honesty his aggressiveness, will attact people, He’s infected people in the town already with his enthusiasm.”
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.