Cronan will help oversee the merging of the now separate men's and women's athletics departments and direct all sports until a permanent vice chancellor/director of athletics is named.
"Joan Cronan epitomizes the Volunteer spirit," Cheek said in a statement. "She has been a vital part of Tennessee Athletics for thirty years and will provide proven leadership during our transitional period. I appreciate her willingness to assume this responsibility."
The move comes two days after men's athletics director Mike Hamilton announced he would resign later this month after facing growing criticism for multiple coaching turnovers and an NCAA investigation that resulted in the charge of 12 violations.
Tennessee has already combined some common functions of both its men's and women's athletics departments, like media relations, but Cronan will be the first director to manage all sports.
She has served as women's athletics director for 28 seasons and will continue to serve as women's athletics director until June 30, 2012, when she will become a senior adviser to the vice chancellor and chancellor.
"I am humbled and honored by this opportunity, and I greatly appreciate the chancellor's faith in me," Cronan said. "This is an exciting time for Tennessee athletics, as we have a great team of coaches, staff, and student-athletes. It has been a tremendous honor to serve this university for thirty years, and I am grateful for the chance to play an integral role in helping shape the bright future of Tennessee athletics."
Under Cronan's watch, Lady Volunteers sports have won nine NCAA titles, 27 Southeastern Conference regular season championships and 19 SEC tournament titles. She was the president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics from 2008 to 2009, and the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators named her the 2005 athletic director of the year.
Cronan also was the head women's basketball coach from 1968 to 1970 before a ten-year stint at College of Charleston from 1973 to 1983, where she was director of women's athletics, head women's basketball coach, head women's tennis coach, and head volleyball coach.