- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2011

KNOXVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Tennessee has announced new changes in its athletic department with a familiar face leading the transition.

The university will merge the men’s and women’s athletics departments and longtime women’s AD Joan Cronan will serve as the interim director. She was named the interim vice chancellor and director of athletics, overseeing all sports, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said.

Cronan also will be responsible for hiring the next Vols baseball coach.

She has been an athletics director for 38 years and Tennessee’s women’s director for 28 and will be the first woman to manage men’s and women’s athletics programs in the Southeastern Conference.

“My goal right now is to bring stability and to bring a feeling of ‘we’re going to be OK’ because we are going to be OK,” Cronan said Thursday. “As I look around at other athletic departments, we’re in pretty good shape, you talk about financially, you talk about competitively.”

The move comes two days after men’s athletics director Mike Hamilton announced he would resign later this month after facing growing criticism for multiple coaching turnovers and an NCAA investigation that resulted in the charge of 12 violations.

“The challenge is the transition. The challenge is we haven’t had a great year, but the future is bright,” Cronan said. “I look forward to having the opportunity of leading this program into the future.”

Tennessee and Texas are currently the only programs with separate athletic departments, though Tennessee has been preparing to merge the Vols and Lady Vols programs in the past few years by combining some common functions like media relations.

Cronan said having separate departments has served Tennessee well and resulted in unprecedented support for the school’s women’s programs, including the eight-time national champion Lady Vols basketball team.

Combining the two programs will make Tennessee athletics more efficient and streamlined at a time when all universities are struggling with budgets and the economy.

Cronan said she’s not interested in becoming the permanent vice chancellor/director of athletics but will assist Cheek and others in the search for one. When her replacement is hired, she will continue to serve as women’s athletics director until June 30, 2012, to help with the department’s transition and then will work a senior adviser to the vice chancellor and chancellor for two years.

She said her primary concern in staying on as women’s athletics director and as an adviser was that the women’s sports, which will retain the Lady Vols moniker and logo, maintains its identity and voice during the transition period.

Joan Cronan epitomizes the Volunteer spirit,” Cheek said in a statement. “She has been a vital part of Tennessee Athletics for thirty years and will provide proven leadership during our transitional period. I appreciate her willingness to assume this responsibility.”

Under Cronan’s watch, Lady Volunteers sports have won nine NCAA titles, 27 Southeastern Conference regular season championships and 19 SEC tournament titles. She was the president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics from 2008 to 2009, and the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators named her the 2005 athletic director of the year.

Cronan also was Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach from 1968 to 1970 before a 10-year stint at College of Charleston from 1973 to 1983, where she was director of women’s athletics, head women’s basketball coach, head women’s tennis coach and head volleyball coach.