Saturday, April 19, 2014 · 7:59 a.m.
Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman (Photo: Billy Weeks)

The Chattanooga athletic department is coming off a very eventful year. 

The Mocs found a new athletic director, there was a changing of the guards for both basketball programs, and the UTC football program accomplished something it hadn’t in nearly three decades.

Here’s a look at our top stories from Chattanooga athletics in 2013:

Former Chattanooga head men's basketball coach John Shulman. (Photo: Michael Murphy)

1. John Shulman let go after nine seasons

After nearly a decade in charge of the men’s basketball program, former head coach John Shulman and Chattanooga parted ways at the conclusion of a rather underwhelming 2012-13 campaign. The Mocs narrowly avoided their second straight 20-loss season before going one-and-done at the 2013 SoCon tournament. Shulman, who’d led UTC to four SoCon North Division titles and a pair of NCAA tournament appearances during his tenure, still had one year remaining on his deal. He wanted to come back, but wouldn’t do so without a multiyear deal. The administration, under the direction of interim athletic director Laura Herron and interim Chancellor Grady Bogue, couldn’t justify an extension. Shulman, who compiled a 145-146 record in nine seasons, currently serves as director of sales at Access American Transportation in Chattanooga.

2. Wes Moore leaves for NC State

Former Lady Mocs head coach Wes Moore also coached his final game at Chattanooga in 2013. He wasn’t pushed out of the door, though. Moore left on his own terms. Less than a month after leading Chattanooga to the 2013 SoCon tournament title—the ninth of Moore’s tenure with the Lady Mocs—he made his exit. Moore, a six-time SoCon Coach of the Year award recipient, who boasted a 387-115 record and 12 SoCon regular season crowns in 15 seasons at UTC, accepted the head coaching position at North Carolina State, where he’d spent two seasons as an assistant (1993-1995). The Wolfpack, coming off an 89-79 win over No. 12 LSU, are 11-1 in Moore’s first season in charge.

3. David Blackburn hired as UTC athletic director

Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn (Photo: Michael Murphy)

After a very extensive and thorough search, one that spanned nine months and involved a 16-member search committee, Chattanooga finally found Rick Hart’s replacement in April 2013. Several were considered, including finalists Lee Fowler and Mike Buddie, but it was longtime Tennessee administrator David Blackburn who ultimately landed the job. There wasn’t much of a honeymoon phase, either. Blackburn had his hands full right away with a couple of pressing issues, finding coaches for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs. Blackburn spearheaded the searches, and knocked both out of the park by landing a pair of excellent candidates. Once those were out of the way, he turned his attention to the unenviable task of expanding the budget, and that job is never-ending. McKenzie Arena underwent a reseating project over the summer, and the men’s basketball locker room has also been seriously upgraded since Blackburn’s arrival. There are plenty more renovations still on the horizon—like a football building and a new playing surface at Finley Stadium—but Blackburn’s off to a very good start.

4. Will Wade named Chattanooga’s 18th men’s basketball head coach

John Shulman’s replacement didn’t bring quite as much experience to the position as Foster, but he brought every bit as much excitement. Upon his hiring in May, the 30-year-old Will Wade, who served as an assistant for VCU’s Shaka Smart, promised to bring with him an exciting, up-tempo brand of basketball—Chaos—complete with full-court pressure defense and a transition-based offensive attack. As the first few months of the season have shown, the idea hasn’t completely clicked. The Mocs simply don’t possess the length or athleticism required to play that brand of basketball—yet. Wade hasn’t abandoned Chaos, but rather rebranded it a bit. The undersized Mocs have been mixing in much more zone while employing a more dribble-drive-oriented offense so as not to “just beat our heads against the wall and do the same thing,” according to Wade. Chattanooga sits at 4-8 on the season, with three of its wins coming against non-Division I competition. It’s far too early to write the Mocs’ 2013-14 campaign off, though. Through the non-conference portion of the schedule, only one SoCon squad—Elon (7-6)—owns a winning record. UTC opens conference play Saturday, Jan. 4 at Furman. That’s when the real season begins.

Chattanooga women's basketball coach Jim Foster (Photo: Billy Weeks)

5. Jim Foster named Chattanooga’s fifth women’s basketball coach

When a school of similar size and stature as Chattanooga loses a coach like Wes Moore, there’s nowhere to go but down, right? Wrong. That became apparent to the UTC faithful in May, when Blackburn announced Moore’s successor would be 35-year coaching veteran Jim Foster. At the very least, Blackburn’s hiring of Foster made it clear that the UTC women’s basketball program’s expectations are still right where Moore left them. If anything, they were raised upon the 2013 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee’s hiring. Chattanooga is off to a solid start in Foster’s first season in charge, too, having already knocked off a pair of SEC opponents in Alabama and Auburn. The Lady Mocs are 10-3 on the year and are currently in the midst of a six-game winning streak.

6. Football ends 28-year championship drought

The season came to a rather uneventful end, but Chattanooga accomplished something it hadn’t in the nearly three decades prior by winning a share of the SoCon Championship for the first time since 1984. The 28-year postseason drought remains alive, though, after UTC didn’t receive one of 13 at-large bids to the FCS playoffs. It was still a season to remember for the Mocs, though it couldn’t have started off any worse. They suffered a humiliating 31-21 home loss to UT Martin to open the season, and sat at .500 after a Week 5 setback at Georgia Southern. Unlike head coach Russ Huesman’s previous four seasons in charge, though, Chattanooga refused to let the doubt creep in. The Mocs went on to win their next six games, including a season-defining 35-28 win at Appalachian State, and secured a share of the SoCon crown the following week against Wofford. Russ Huesman won the league’s Coach of the Year award, his son Jacob took home top offensive honors, and junior defensive end Davis Tull repeated as SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. A championship ring and all that individual praise is nice, but knowing what was left on the table at season’s end simply leaves the Mocs wanting more. And while “Finish” was the team’s 2013 slogan, something along the lines of “Leave no doubt” might be more appropriate for 2014. 

Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.

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