A quick goodbye note to Knoxville and East Tennessee …

My dearest Knoxville,
Sitting down to write this letter, I first asked esteemed colleague Evan Woodbery if a goodbye letter, given the brevity of my stay – 23 months in East Tennessee; 14 here in Knoxville – would be, perhaps, a tad self-important.

Woodbery, as he’s won’t to do, offered clear-eyed perspective. He, being a whole three years older than me, is weathered and wise.

Woodbery’s offering: “As long as it’s not written in a self-important manner, then it’s not self-important.”

So there’s the goal.

Having spent the last week-plus looking back on the bizarre series of events that took me from A to B to Z, back to C, then to R and G and finally to Tennessee, I felt compelled to thank you — you, whoever you are, who is reading this. Because if you’re reading this, you either know me or worked with me or read my ramblings or followed me on social media — and whichever one you are, you helped me find my footing.

To keep this particular ramble at a reasonable length, trust that the 10-count on my career had reached nine when, in August 2011, I decided to take a flier on a job at a startup website in Chattanooga. At age 28, I had been freelancing for almost three years, eating letdown after letdown from newspapers all over the country — always declining, but never hitting rock-bottom. Rent was paid from my cash tips, despite my status as the worst bartender in Philadelphia.

But Barry Large, Ted Alling and Adam Green at Nooga.com decided to take a chance. They hired me as sports editor and I told my friends and family in Philly, “This is it. I’m taking one more stab at it. I’ll give this one year. If it doesn’t work, I’ll come back and figure something out.”

Nine months later I left Chattanooga and accepted the men’s basketball beat writer job at the Knoxville News Sentinel. Fourteen months after that, I accepted the Michigan men’s basketball beat writer job at MLive.

Bizarre, yes.

So now I’m off to Ann Arbor; a bittersweet departure. My time in both Chattanooga and Knoxville was wonderful, both personally and professionally. And regardless of what happens moving forward, I’ll always remember and be thankful for East Tennessee paving the pivot point I spent most of my twenties looking for. 

East Tennessee became a home I never anticipated. Despite y’all belittling my accent, my clothes and my disposition, I loved this place — Knoxville in particular.

I won’t go one-by-one naming everyone who made my time at the News Sentinel as special as it was. You know you who you are, and if you don’t, I will likely tell you over a beer before I leave. Except for John Adams. John, you did little for me, and, in fact, probably served as a detriment. Woodbery, too, for that matter. Actually, all of you, except Mike Strange.

To the readers (Vol fans), thanks for the interaction, the feedback and the passion with which you demand quality coverage. You may or may not agree, but I believe I became a better beat writer by working to meet your expectations. I would describe the Tennessee fan base, for the most part, as having a “leveled insanity” seen few other places in America. That’s a compliment.

To Cuonzo Martin and the Tennessee basketball program, thanks for two seasons of admirable access and always being willing to work with me. We butted heads a few times, but the good far, far outweighed the bad. Best of luck in 2013-14.

And to any bar in Knoxville that I may have an outstanding open tab, please forward it along to:
Gerald Witt
2332 News Sentinel Dr.
Knoxville, TN 37921

That’s all. Thanks for the memories, Knoxville. I love yous.