It’s been nearly 20 years since Heath Shuler finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting as a Tennessee Volunteers quarterback.
According to at least one report, the rumor is that Shuler may have an interest in returning to Knoxville to run the Vols’ athletic department. And the interest, per the speculation, was initiated and is being reciprocated by the school.
By way of a political website called Hotline On Call, a radio host in Knoxville, WLVZ’s Tony Basilio, wrote on his blog Monday that Shuler was approached by unnamed UT officials about becoming the school’s athletic director shortly after Mike Hamilton stepped down earlier this month. Shuler was sufficiently intrigued by the interest that, Basilio wrote, the former Vol is doing “some personal due diligence”.
Shuler’s reportedly reached out to former UT football coaches Phillip Fulmer — rumored initially to be a candidate for the AD job as well — and Johnny Majors, and received their “blessing” and support in pursuing the opening.
And, apparently, another part of that due diligence involves sorting out which direction his current career is headed.
Shuler is currently a Democratic congressman, representing North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives. He could, however, have a difficult time when the next election rolls around due to redistricting.
Shuler was elected to represent the GOP-leaning Asheville district in 2006, but his seat is one that is expected to be redrawn to be sharply more difficult for him in maps the GOP-led state legislature will release this Friday. Shuler is already facing a primary challenge from Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, and as Republicans have focused pressure on the dwindling Blue Dog Democrats in the House, two have already resigned or announced their intention to retire in 2012.
Certainly, a losing reelection bid would have Shuler at least looking at future employment opportunities. For now, however, the Shuler camp will not hint that he’s interested in anything other than his current position.
“Congressman Shuler is focused on the very serious challenges facing our nation, including job creation and balancing our budget,” Shuler spokesperson Andrew Whalen told Hotline On Call when asked about the UT speculation. “He is currently and actively preparing for his next re-election campaign in 2012 and looks forward to continuing to fight for the working families of Western North Carolina in the years ahead.”
We’ve been told privately to not put too much stock in the speculation involving Shuler, so we’ll place this squarely in the “possible, but not very likely” rumor mill bin. Then again, a similar scenario didn’t work out too bad for Nebraska and Tom Osborne, so we guess it shouldn’t be dismissed completely out of hand, however unlikely it may seem at the moment.