Twenty-four days remain of Gary Sousa's 17-year career as the director of bands for the Pride of the Southland Marching Band.
Due to acts of insubordination committed in October 2013 and Sousa's poor standing with "key" university officials, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Susan D. Martin issued a letter Thursday stripping Sousa of the title and his "appointment" as a WJ Julian Fellow.
After a long period of investigation on the part of the university, a review of actions of the band of directors was compiled by Vice Provost John Zomchick. Sousa responded to this document, citing "bias" and factual inaccuracies.
Despite his protest, Sousa is now solely a tenured professor in the School of Music.
Sousa's "bitter battle" was prefaced by years of smaller skirmishes.
He couldn't hear the bells, only the PA system.
After the UT-Alabama football game in October 2009, Sousa was concerned about music. But his concern was not caused by a wayward trumpet or a tuba out of step – it was the recorded music, blared throughout the Tuscaloosa stadium during periods typically reserved for band performances.
The following week, Sousa sent a letter to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, asking him to advocate for the preservation of live music on gameday. Sousa wrote to Slive that in the ring of those "artifical noisemakers," he heard the "death knell of the college marching band."
Under the SEC guidelines for that year, Sousa estimated that three out of five opportunities for the Pride to perform could be eliminated.
Nothing came of Sousa's plea. But it began a chain of events that would someday appear in a review of actions compiled by Zomchick.
Two years later, the roar of change would only grow louder.
Dave Hart assumed his post as athletic director in the fall of 2011. Sousa claimed Hart had "shut" him out, raising "walls" between athletics and the band that had not existed before. Months later, UT athletics denied the Pride the funding needed to fly the band for the Arkansas road football game. Sousa refused to transport the band by bus.
2012 would force the Band to move, though not in the manner Sousa would have preferred.
Previously, Sousa and the band fell under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Provost. But this, Zomchick stated in his review, was both "ineffective" and "inconsistent" with "standard practice for the director of bands."
Despite resistance from Sousa, the university pushed through a "tense" transition and moved Sousa and the band under the jurisdiction of the School of Music.
In 2013, the tension escalated into "war."
Sousa's computer contained a folder entitled "Athletic Battle 2013."
The year brought more recorded music during games, two defunded away games and heavier budget cuts. Sousa felt that the Pride was being minimized.
By the beginning of the fall 2013 football season, "mutual distrust had emerged" as a result of these events. Sousa had yet to address his concerns directly with UT athletics because, in his mind, it was not in his new "chain of command."
The Georgia game on Oct. 5 was the final straw.
The prevalence of "canned" music at the game had reached a level Sousa believed "unreasonable," though an audit later conducted by UT athletics revealed that this belief was only shared by one other interviewee – a Pride alumnus.
In a message addressed to Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Fuller on Oct. 7, Sousa directly expressed his distress about the increased commercials and recordings. At halftime, music had played over the sound system during a Pride performance.
"While we see this kind of disrespect in other stadiums within the SEC, it will not be tolerated here at the University of Tennessee," Sousa wrote.
In a letter to Chancellor Cheek formally addressing this occurrence, Sousa highlighted the wider trend of recorded music and commercials during games. But this letter would not reach Cheek until days after Sousa had already approached the media.
This conduct would later draw Martin's criticism, as she noted it did not accord with professional standards.
On the night of Oct. 7, Sousa rallied support at the monthly Alumni Band Council Meeting. The following day, Sousa met with a reporter for his first interview. On Oct. 9, he lifted the no-response policy requiring band members to remain silent about these issues. Shortly thereafter, band student leaders posted an online petition defending the band's importance that would go on to garner 13,345 signatures.
The university placed Sousa on leave on Oct. 14, but permitted him to return to prepare for the spring semester classload on Dec. 19.
Now, classes will be the only thing Sousa prepares for, as he no longer works 12 months a year and his Saturdays will be free.
He lost 25 percent of his salary and a $15,000 fellowship endowment, but Sousa said he has few regrets.
In the letter included with his rebuff of Zomchick's review, Sousa stated his willingness to take the fall for the "welfare" of students and "gameday tradition."
However, he did admit he wished he had given administrators more time to react before going public with his complaints.
"My refusal to accept the march to profits is my mistake," Sousa wrote, "and one for which I have paid dearly."
Emilee Lamb, Zoe Yim and R.J. Vogt contributed to this report.