On February 8, 2021, Mónica Lebrón Ph.D. was not offered the athletic director’s position at the University of Central Florida, recently vacated by Danny White. Her first call was to her mother. Her second call was to Danny White, the same Danny White who left the UCF job to be the new University of Tennessee athletics director.
White wasted no time, something she says he never does. He snapped her up and hired her during that call and on Thursday, Feb. 11, she reported to work as the new deputy athletics director for championship resources. That last word of her title is a tipoff. Call the job what you will, but this woman is now responsible for every aspect and facet of fundraising to support what she and White both want – championship caliber teams in all sports, every year.
The other major part of her job is sharing the lead sport administrator duties for both Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Prior to taking the UT position, she was deputy athletics director and chief operating officer at Tulane.
Yesterday she spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut, and it’s safe to say she was superb. She’s a Yale graduate and played four years on its women’s softball team as its first baseman, captain of the 2001 team and its MVP in 2000. And she was All-Ivy League for three years. She makes no bones about it – she’s a competitor – still.
“I had known Danny for 20 years and of course I called him about the job at UCF before I interviewed and he said then if I didn’t get the job he’d want me to come to Tennessee,” Lebrón said. “I want to be part of the architect team that gets Tennessee back to the top where it belongs. We have incredible fans, incredible resources and when Danny offered me the job I was ready.”
Lebrón was still a little tired yesterday. She was with the basketball Vols in Columbia, Missouri, for Tuesday night’s thumping of the Missouri Tigers, 80-61. The team charter landed here at 1 a.m., and she was in bed at 3 a.m.
Tennessee is her fourth professional stop in the SEC. She has worked at Florida, Ole Miss and Georgia and also at Tulane. Her first time in Knoxville was for the 2004 game between UT and Florida, where she worked. UT won when James Wilhoit kicked a 50-yard field goal with 6 seconds left to give the then 13th ranked Vols a 30-28 victory over Florida, ranked 9th.
She remembers leaving the stadium with the UT fans showering her and others with the “Gator chomp.”
“I remember walking into Neyland Stadium that night and seeing and hearing that crowd and the atmosphere, and I knew I’d never seen anything like it,” she said. “And in the year I’ve been here, I can say that this place is different. It’s everything … the people, the fans, the school, and I’m settling in and enjoying living downtown.”
Her name is one people are beginning to know, and that will continue.
Lebrón knows the history of Tennessee and its championships in many sports, especially football. “Somewhere along the way Tennessee lost that, its culture was different and things had changed. But now, with coach (Josh) Heupel here, I felt a cultural shift with him this season, a real change that will take Tennessee back to the top.”
That would make her job easier, and she faces a big challenge now. White named her as the point person for the launch of the Tennessee Athletics’ “My All” Campaign in the summer of 2021. This is a five-year campaign to ensure Tennessee’s ability to provide a transformational student-athlete experience for current and future Vols and Lady Vols.
The campaign’s goal is heady – a half-billion dollars or $500 million. Its launch is bolstered by close to $200 million already committed. As part of this campaign, UT began something new – The Shareholders Society, the exclusive philanthropic giving society for Tennessee Athletics. Members of The Shareholders Society make a commitment of at least $25,000 or more that is fulfilled over 5 years ($5,000 per year and tax deductible).
“Since we launched The Shareholders Society, we’ve added 185 new members and raised almost $28 million in pledged gifts,” she added.
This 42-year-old woman has small shoulders that are accustomed to big loads. “I’m open, honest, transparent and going strong,” she said. “If people have questions about donations and tickets, and there are emotions in all of this too, I’ll go to their house to help. And I mean that.”
To explore membership in the Rotary Club of Farragut, call 865-659-3562. Farragut Rotary meets each Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at Fox Den Country Club. Tom King, a past president of Farragut Rotary, has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been the editor of two newspapers.