Heath Shuler speaks to a group of young people this morning in Union City.
By KENNETH COKER
When asked if he had thrown his name into the hat to become the next University of Tennessee athletic director, Heath Shuler literally gave a political answer.
“Right now, I’m focused on the job at hand and the issues that our nation is facing,” the former Vol quarterback and current North Carolina congressman told The Messenger just prior to speaking to the Boys & Girls Club at the “Breakfast for Champions” this morning at Union City Middle School. “It’s very flattering that my name has been mentioned, but today I’m focused on talking to these kids and the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) later today.”
Shuler — in town as part of a trip that includes participation in an FCA golf tournament this afternoon in Dyersburg — did say he has been contacted by numerous “supporters and fans” in regard to the AD’s job. He would not confirm whether he is a candidate or not.
A radio host for WLVZ radio in Knoxville and numerous other news agencies have reported that Shuler was possibly interested in replacing Mike Hamilton, who resigned earlier this month.
Rumors aside, Shuler had no qualms discussing his limitless love for the university.
“My blood runs orange,” he said when asked if Tennessee still has a special place in his heart. “There is a family atmosphere at the university that is special. It’s something that you don’t see at a lot of other places.
“I’ll always be a part of the UT family and that’s something the good Lord has blessed me with.”
Shuler also applauded the loyalty of Volunteer fans across the state while at UCMS, recalling stops he made as a student-athlete and the support he received.
“Tennessee’s a very large state, but the fan support is just incredible,” Shuler said “From Union City to Knoxville is a pretty long drive, but I remember going to Memphis and Nashville as a player and seeing orange everywhere.
“There are universities much closer than Knoxville, but the loyalty is amazing. I was at a small get-together last night (in Union City) and there were orange ‘T’s’ on almost every shirt.”
The former first-round draft pick (Washington Redskins, 1994) also lauded his time at Tennessee as a crucial point in preparing him for the political battles that were ahead.
“I owe a lot to David Cutcliffe, Johnny Majors and Philip Fulmer for making a young student into a man,” said Shuler, who finished second to Florida State’s Charlie Ward in the 1993 Heisman Trophy race. “The integrity, character and discipline they taught me has carried through to my adult life.”
Shuler’s NFL career was cut short in 1997 due to injury while with the New Orleans Saints.
Additionally, Shuler told of his fondness for the Boys & Girls Club. The Vol legend said his first official job was helping out at the one on campus in Knoxville his freshman year of college.
“I figured, they would put me out on the field and have me teaching how to play football or in a gym,” Shuler said. “But they didn’t. They put me inside and one of the most gratifying things I had the chance to do was teach a little girl how to read.”
Published in The Messenger 6.30.11