Donde Plowman Chancellor's Flagship Address

KNOXVILLE, TN - Chancellor Donde Plowman chats with colleagues, guests and students after giving her Flagship Address in the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center on Thursday Sep. 29, 2022.

As media outlets descended onto campus Friday ahead of the most-anticipated game in college football, Chancellor Donde Plowman sat down with alumnus and SEC Network host Paul Finebaum (‘78) on a live taping of his show to discuss the recent success of the football team and the state of the university heading into the home game against Alabama

Plowman said the success of the football program was connected to successes in high enrollment rates, new construction and expanded funding for research and development. 

“There’s a lot going on, but it’s all interrelated,” Plowman said. “Our enrollments are through the ceiling … we’re growing like crazy. So it all works together, I believe. So we’re in a good place. I like to say it this way: this university is on the rise.”

For the first time since 1989, Tennessee and Alabama both head into the “Third Saturday in October” game undefeated. For many, Saturday’s game will serve as a test of the true power of the Vols in coach Josh Heupel’s second season. If the Vols win, it will be their first victory over the dominant Alabama in 15 years.

Plowman has been getting more attention as a leader responsible for the resurgence of Tennessee Athletics success. At the Oct. 8 matchup against LSU at Tiger Stadium, Plowman was welcomed by a crowd of traveling UT fans with shouts of “Donde! Donde!” 

Sitting before cameras outside Thompson-Boling Arena, Finebaum described UT as the “epicenter of college football today” and credited Plowman for her leadership, giving specific attention to the dismissal of former head coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine football staffers in January 2021 over recruiting violations. 

“I have to give you enormous credit for doing what was right and making changes that were necessary,” Finebaum said.

Pruitt was fired the same day that legendary coach Phillip Fulmer announced his retirement as athletics director. Only three days later, Plowman hired Danny White to take the position. Four days later, White hired Josh Heupel as head coach. 

Plowman said the instability and chaos of that time has paid off in the success of the football, basketball and baseball programs under White’s leadership. 

“Those were hard days and you never want to have to go through that, but I feel really strengthened by the joy that our fans are experiencing right now,” Plowman said. 

Shortly before joining Finebaum, Plowman presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Zeanah Engineering Complex, a sprawling $129 million, 228,000-square-foot structure and the largest academic building on campus.

This fall, UT welcomed its largest student body in history. The university’s official news page is flush with stories on UT’s climbing position on national rankings, growing student success initiatives and new state-of-the-art construction

Plowman said the university’s rising stature is related to the success of the football program and other athletics programs, since games attract attention not only from media outlets such as ESPN’s College GameDay – set to make its second Knoxville appearance this month – but also from prospective students. 

“I believe good things feed off each other. Now, we’re the destination location all across the country for kids to come to school. And I say to people, wait til we’re really great at football, and then we’ll just be off the charts! So it all works together for good,” Plowman said. 

Finebaum said alumni were not always proud of Tennessee athletics or university leadership, alluding to the short tenure of former chancellor Beverly Davenport, who hired and later fired John Currie as athletics director, before she was terminated herself. 

“There was a time when it was impossible, it was harder to keep with the chancellor and president of this university than the football coach, cause they were always in revolution,” Finebaum said.

At a university where administration and athletics leadership have often changed from one year to the next, Plowman said it was her goal to provide the university with stability. The suite of UT System President Randy Boyd, Plowman, Heupel and White have already overseen what many believe to be a renaissance of UT athletic prowess. 

“I’m very aware that I’m the steward of this place. I’m the steward of these people’s hopes and their dreams,” Plowman said. 

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