Dave Hart didn't expect to be sitting behind a microphone Monday night, orange tie around his neck and Tennessee backdrop behind him, as the school's new vice chancellor of athletics.
Not 20 years ago. Not 10 years ago. Not last week.
"We don't like to bounce around," the 62-year-old Hart said, looking directly at his wife, Pam. "We're not transient people."
A weekend with UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek convinced Hart that now was the time to leave his alma mater, Alabama, where he had served as the executive director of athletics since 2008.
The meeting had the exact same effect on Cheek, who said he knew within five minutes that Hart was serious about his interest in the job.
Though his previous stop didn't have him at the top of the totem pole, his previous 20 years as an athletic director at Florida State and East Carolina gave Cheek and his five-person search committee exactly what they were looking for: "an experienced athletic director from a major university with outstanding athletic programs."
"I have the same energy I had 15 years ago," Hart said. "I enjoy people, I enjoy building relationships with coaches.
"There aren't a lot of schools that have the passion and display it the way that the University of Tennessee does."
According to his memorandum of understanding, Hart will make a base salary of $575,000, an additional $150,000 for personal appearances and media opportunities and will receive $50,000 "retention bonuses" through Aug. 31, 2017 that will give him $775,000 annually. If Hart meets Cheek's "expectations," he will receive an annual 3 percent raise to his base salary.
If Hart leaves UT for another Division I athletic director job before the end of his contract, he would owe the school 75 percent of his remaining base salary. UT would owe Hart the same amount if it were to fire him without cause before the end of his deal.
"I want you to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are here, our passion is here," Hart said. "We'll have a chance to demonstrate that as the months and years progress."
Hart's first day on the job is Sept. 21, a little more than three months after former Athletic Director Mike Hamilton resigned.
Hamilton's departure set in motion a search that drew heavy criticism for its $90,000 contract with Parker Executive Search firm and included one public spurning from LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva.
UT Women's Athletic Director Joan Cronan, who has served as UT's interim vice chancellor of athletics since Hamilton's resignation and was a member of Cheek's search committee, said Hart's name didn't pop on UT's radar until sometime last week. In his meetings with Cheek, Hart said he made it clear that he wasn't a micromanager and didn't want to be micromanaged.
"Athletics has never been, should not be and never will be, the most important thing on a university campus," Hart said. "But it is absolutely the most visible element within that university structure."
Hart inherits a program with a $100 million budget, relatively new coaches in three of its top four moneymaking sports and is in the midst of merging its long-separate men's and women's programs into one entity. It's also a department that has been ravaged with turmoil and instability stemming from an NCAA investigation that lingered over 28 months, resulted in the termination of popular men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl and just recently came to a close with the Committee on Infractions accepting the school's self-imposed penalties.
"I'm aware that there are still wounds for a variety of reasons," Hart said. "But I think that's not where your focus should be."