Athletic director Danny White hasn’t been shy about his desire for the University of Tennessee to be a juggernaut in all sports. White wants Tennessee to have the best teams, best facilities, most titles, most money and biggest crowds. He now has a blueprint for how UT will try to make that possible and is sharing it with everyone.
White announced last week the completion of a comprehensive five-year strategic plan for Tennessee Athletics. Titled Rise Glorious, the document is a result of months of study and collaboration by working committees consisting of UT athletic staff members, alumni and current athletes.
The ambitious plan, which can be accessed on the UT Athletics website, provides benchmarks for titles, fundraising and ticket sales.
“Rise Glorious serves as a very clear road map for accomplishing Tennessee Athletics’ mission of leading the way in college sports,” White says. “This plan outlines why Tennessee Athletics exists and how we must approach each day in order to attain all of our specific goals for the next five years. It establishes standards we all must live by – staff, coaches, student-athletes, campus community and fans alike – as we restore Tennessee athletics to the front of the pack.”
Amid a changing landscape of college sports with the introduction of name, image, likeness (NIL), the transfer portal and conference realignment, White established the strategic planning process in the summer of 2021.
He named a steering committee and six subcommittees that focused on the following areas: mission, vision and core values; student-athlete success; culture; resources; brand advancement and messaging; and competitive excellence.
The plan unveiled a new vision statement for Tennessee Athletics: “Deliver an unparalleled student-athlete experience fueled by the relentless pursuit of comprehensive excellence; be bold and innovative in our approach to recruiting and developing well-rounded graduates, championship-driven competitors and world-changing leaders.”
All of the strategies and goals outlined within the strategic plan will be implemented through a detailed “action-step matrix.” The matrix defines staff accountability, key measurements, resource requirements and the time frame for completion. Tennessee Athletics will use the action-step matrix to track progress and overall success.
Among the highlights of the plan are goals for competitive success:
• Win a national championship in at least one sport every four years, and each sport will achieve at least one national top 16 finish every four years.
• Each sport will win a conference championship at least once every five years.
• Capture five conference championships in one academic year while averaging at least three conference championships per year over the next five years.
The fundraising goals include:
• Grow the annual operating budget to more than $200 million by 2026-27
• Grow the unrestricted annual fund to $40 million by 2026-27
The season ticket goals by 2026-27 are:
• 70,000 in football
• 14,500 in men’s basketball
• 8,000 in women’s basketball
“To inspire others to pursue greatness, it is imperative to outline a plan, provide details about the daily steps that must be taken by everyone and explain the commitment required to get there,” says UT women’s basketball head coach Kellie Harper, a steering committee member. “It takes everyone working together, and it is so much easier to do that when people see and understand the vision, believe in the cause and are intentional about giving their all, collaboratively, toward building something special.”
Kylie Duckworth, a member of the UT women’s tennis team and 2021-22 co-president of the Tennessee Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, was one of four athletes who participated in the strategic planning process.
“Being able to be involved in developing the strategic plan was a great honor and an opportunity to continue to leave a legacy at UT, even after I graduate,” Duckworth says. “Knowing that our administration is seeking a cohesive and comprehensive plan to improve our programs – and knowing that they are actively seeking student-athlete feedback – makes me excited to be a VFL and see how Tennessee’s athletic programs can continue to thrive.”
Tennessee has some positive momentum to build on from recent success. This year, UT claimed its first men’s SEC Overall All-Sports Championship.
Four Tennessee teams won five SEC titles in 2021-22, and eight programs finished in the top 16 or advanced to at least the round of 16 in their respective NCAA championships.
The five SEC team championships were UT’s most in a single academic year since 2010-11. Before this year, the last time at least four different sport programs won SEC titles in the same year was 2006-07.
Tennessee placed 13th in the Learfield Directors Cup standings, the national measure of athletic program success, its best finish since 2006-07.
The Learfield standings are included in the strategic plan with a stated goal of being the top SEC school and finishing in the top 15 overall in three of every five years.
UT’s last national team championship came in 2009, when the women’s track and field team captured the title. The Lady Vols won the NCAA women’s basketball title in back-to-back seasons in 2007 and 2008. But no other team has broken through since those.
The success of football will be the driver of how UT’s athletic prominence is measured in the public eye and boost the financial resources for the entire department.
In the first season under head coach Josh Heupel in 2021, the Vols finished 7-6 and set single-season records for points scored (511) and touchdowns (67).
That helped alleviate some of the fan apathy and provided hope for a steady upward trajectory.
“We are just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish here together,” says Heupel, a steering committee member. “The passion, competitiveness and camaraderie across the board in all sports is unmatched. It truly is a family.
“Our staff and student-athletes love going to events across all sports,” Heupel continues. “We not only want to fulfill our goals in the overall mission of Tennessee Athletics, but we want to be a part of the environment at other venues as well. We are all encouraging each other to be the best, departmentwide.”