KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Retiring Tennessee women’s athletic director emeritus Joan Cronan believes the school will withstand the adversity it’s encountered since consolidating its men’s and women’s athletic departments.
But she wants to make sure the Lady Vols brand and logo remain an integral part of the school’s tradition. The solid orange power ”T” is used for the men’s teams, while a unique version features the words ”Lady Volunteers” in blue for the women’s teams.
”That logo stands for so much,” Cronan said. ”People talk about logos. McDonald’s wouldn’t give up its arches. McDonald’s (restaurants) are recreating how they look, but they still have that arch. Tennessee athletics is recreating how it looks, but I think the Lady Vols will still be a vital part of it.”
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Cronan was the Tennessee women’s athletic director from 1983-2012, building one of the nation’s most respected women’s athletics programs.
She filled in as the school’s overall interim athletic director in 2011 before Dave Hart took over on a permanent basis. For the last two years, Cronan has been women’s athletic director emeritus and adviser and consultant to the chancellor.
Legendary coach Pat Summitt built the women’s basketball program at Tennessee and her teams won eight national titles before she retired in 2012 and became head coach emeritus.
”Joan Cronan’s vision, passion and tireless efforts to grow women’s athletics and to promote women’s opportunities made a huge difference across the nation for women in sports,” Summitt said in a statement released by her foundation. ”Joan was the driving force in elevating the prominence and brand of Tennessee Lady Vol athletics through strategy, excellence and priceless relationships.
”Joan expected my best each day, and I expected her best each day. Over the years, Joan and I sharpened each other. I consider her a great friend and true champion.”
Cronan plans to continue speaking and fundraising for the university, but she also will devote more time to other interests, which include writing a book that discusses how lessons learned from sports can be used in life and business.
During her tenure, the Lady Vols also won two national championships in women’s indoor track. Tennessee is naming its new volleyball practice facility after Cronan.
”I feel the same way about Joan in this regard that I do Pat,” Hart said. ”What they have meant – not only to the University of Tennessee but to women’s athletics nationally – is hard to adequately put into a statement. They’ve been pioneers. They’ve done wonders for the advancement of women’s sports.”
Cronan’s career plans began at 12 when she wasn’t permitted to play Little League baseball because of her gender.
”You know the Barbara Mandrell song, that she was country before it was cool to be country?” Cronan said. ”Well, I was a tomboy before it was cool for women to be in sports. I knew I loved to play and I knew I loved to compete. When they wouldn’t let me play baseball, it made me mad. My thought was, `Why not?”’
Cronan is retiring at a delicate time for the department. Two lawsuits were filed against the university in the fall of 2012, after Tennessee consolidated its men’s and women’s athletic departments.
Debby Jennings, the former Lady Vols media director, is suing Tennessee and Hart individually over allegations that age and sex discrimination led to her forced retirement after 35 years. Her suit alleged that 12 of the 15 employees laid off as part of the consolidation of the two athletic departments were female.
Former Tennessee associate director of sports medicine Jenny Moshak, who spent 24 years at the school, and ex-Lady Vols strength coaches Heather Mason and Collin Schlosser filed a suit saying the university set up a ”testosterone wall” that prevented female employees or people associated with women’s teams from earning equal pay.
Cronan, who isn’t a part of either suit, declined comment on the litigation but said she has no doubt Tennessee continues to care about women’s sports.
”Tennessee has been supportive of women’s athletics in the past and the present,” Cronan said. ”That will continue into the future.”
The 70-year-old Cronan will maintain the emeritus title after Monday when she retires.