Derek Dooley 'excited' about Dave Hart coming to UT
Dave Hart used vacation time to finish his run as the executive director of athletics at Alabama, but that's probably the worst way to describe how he's spent the past two weeks leading up to today, his first official day on the job as Tennessee's new athletic director.
Hart's barely had time to look for a house in Knoxville, or even put his old one in Tuscaloosa on the market. He's been back and forth between the two cities and glued to his cell phone every step of the way, fielding numerous interview requests and communicating frequently with the administrators and coaches he'll now be supervising on a daily basis.
"I've been working since I left the press conference," Hart said.
In between unpacking boxes in his Brenda Lawson Athletic Center office Tuesday, Hart sat down with the News Sentinel to discuss a variety of issues swirling in the world of UT athletics and beyond.
Q: You were heavily involved when the ACC expanded from nine to 12 teams. What's your inside take on the current wave of conference expansion in college athletics?
A: When you watch the evolution of postseason football and watch the evolution of conference realignment, you just have a sense, or I have had the sense all along, we had not reached its point of conclusion. There could be potentially an explosion this time of conference realignment. That, again, depends on a couple of key dominoes and whether they fall. Obviously the Big 12 is very much in the middle of what we're sitting here talking about. We'll see where we end. We've got great leadership in the SEC in Mike Slive. I don't think that there will be any major surprises in the sense of playing out the scenarios that could occur.
Q: Why is it happening now?
A: The Big East has always been a conglomeration of I-A and I-AA, some football schools, some non-football schools. You just wondered at what point down the road would something happen there.
You have conferences that don't share revenues equally. Human nature dictates that it's problematic. It can lead — I'm not suggesting it is the case — but it can lead to some dysfunctional family type issues. A lot of things that you just look and say, 'At what point will change occur to bring all that to where you want it?' We've had conference realignment before, obviously, but you just have the sense that it wasn't over. Now, this could bring us to a point where the dust settles but, perhaps not, depending upon what we look like when in its final form in this phase of conference realignment.
Q: This athletic department prides itself on not only being entirely self-sufficient, but also its ability to give back millions to the academic side of the university. Is that something you expect to continue?
A: You always want to. At the end of the day, we're all here to advance the university. That's what we're trying to do. If we can stay in a position financially, I think that's the key, if we can stay in a position financially to meet the goals that have been established. It takes resources to accomplish your goal of comprehensive excellence, you can't do that without commitment, you can't do that without resources, and you can't do that without the proper leadership among your coaches.
As long as we're able to be fortunate enough to generate the types of revenues that enables us to meet those goals, then we should be giving back to the university in whatever amount that makes sense.
Q: What are your immediate goals as UT's new athletic director?
A: To sit down like you and I are right now, one on one, with staff and coaches. Listen and absorb what they have to say during that conversation and that exchange because I think that when you do that, you begin to develop some common threads — good, bad or indifferent. Paints a little bit of a picture for you that you may not have as you initially come in without having the ability to sit down with people.
We've got to put a leadership team in place administratively. That's going to be something that will be very, very important. We're merging the programs. We've got to look at what is the best direction to move in and what is the destination. You can't get in the car and start driving around. You've got to know where you're going. Collectively, we've got to establish that as a high priority.
Q: How big will your leadership team be?
A: It varies. I think the governed structure that I've preferred throughout my career is one where you have a smaller leadership team and then a larger administrative team. Now, they all work hand in hand and everybody around that larger table will play a critical role in where we're going and how we're going to get there. But I think the governed structure is really important. It's important from accountability and responsibility perspective, it's important from a communication perspective. If everybody isn't communicating, you're not going to get where everybody needs to be going, point blank.
I've always believed that people are your most important commodity. You look at any successful corporation, organization, athletic department, doesn't matter, they all have one thing in common. They've got leadership. They've got leadership administratively and leadership among their head coaches, and those are important down that pyramid, too. They communicate. They anticipate.
Q: What will their responsibilities be?
A: I've always believed when you hire good people, then you let them do their jobs and you empower them to do their jobs. I'm not a micromanager. I expect excellence across the board from everybody. If there's paper on the floor, somebody's not doing their job. Somebody doesn't realize that it helps form a negative image. If pictures are crooked walking down the hall, somebody doesn't realize that that's kind of who we are then.
Q: Do you have a time frame set for when this leadership team will be formed?
A: It's hard to set a time frame. Now, I do think sooner than later. I think it has to be sooner than later because we are merging our departments, so part of those meetings will be to assess where do we need to go to get to the final point. We're not at the final point as it relates to that. We've begun that, but certainly we've just got to assess where we're strong, what are our strengths and weaknesses and then begin to wade into how we get better.
Q: Is the biggest hurdle to merging departments converting those who may be stuck in their ways?
A: When you spent so many years as Arkansas did and Iowa did as two separate programs, I know a lot of people that worked at those two institutions and they really felt good at the end of the day. They were all one program. It does not and should not and will not take away in any respect our focus and our priority on women's athletics. I think my track record will speak for itself in terms of my priority that's been placed on women's athletics everywhere I've been.
I think there's probably an inherent fear as we merge, will we lose the attention or will we lose the focus and priority on women's athletics? No. And those programs didn't either to the best of my knowledge. I do think as you merge, you become one. You become the University of Tennessee athletics department. I want to pursue comprehensive excellence.
We've got a lot of those pieces already in place here. I want all of our teams, men's and women's, to achieve at the top of the SEC and nationally. I want to be in the top 10, top five Director's Cup as the years go by. There will be absolutely no erosion as it relates to the focus on that as we merge the programs.
Q: How do you evaluate your coaches?
A: I've always loved building relationships with coaches. But I never as an AD, never as a collegiate administrator, have I hired a coach and said, 'Here's the situation: If your student athletes are good students and if they are good citizens and represent us well, you can coach here as long as you want.' Because that's a lie. What happens in competition will largely dictate the coach's future.
I've always been candid. I never wanted to have a meeting with a coach and leave the room and have that coach thinking 'I wonder where Dave really is on that.' I don't like those kinds of meetings with people.
The reality is we're going to support our coaches intrinsically, extrinsically. We're going to build relationships with our coaches, we're going to insulate them and we're going to be advocates for them. They understand that within a reasonable period of time, and that's hard to define sometimes, they've got to make progress competitively. They know that. Coaches know coming in. I think what they want is candor and support and they do want to work with administrators who are their advocates.
Q: How wounded is Tennessee's image on a national level in the wake of all the instability and turmoil of the past three years?
A: There's obviously a healing process that has to take place. I think that's part of my priority, responsibility, to foster an atmosphere that will enable us to heal those wounds that are out there. They're real. You don't do that by writing a note to somebody. You talk to them, you ultimately get in front of them, you have all the staff marching in the same direction.
At the end of the day, we all do have to be going in the same direction or you can't accomplish the end result. I think quite honestly, as we do this assessment and as we do try to move the program in this same direction, there will be some fallout from that. I understand that. When I say fallout, there will maybe be some people that don't want to move in that direction and they'll have to go look elsewhere where they're more comfortable.
I think it's important for us to accomplish what we're going to accomplish at this great university and to respect and honor the tradition that other people have built before those who are here now that we've got to get to that point where that structure is in place. We've got the right people in place, we have some terrific people here.
At the end of the day, part of that assessment is: 'Is this person slotted correctly? Are we capitalizing on this person's full ability? Would this person be better off over in this position? Is there too much on some desks? Is there not enough on some desks? All those things are part of that total assessment that has to take place for us to be as efficient and effective and successful as we can and should be at the University of Tennessee.
Q: There have been thousands of empty seats at the first two football games at Neyland Stadium this season. Does that concern you?
A: It's not a concern, it's reality of some of those situations that I've referenced. Once you have built and experienced championships, that becomes the lasting expectation. It's indelible now that that's the expectation. You know what? Great. That's what we should be about. We should be about championships, we should be about passion.
If there are 7,000 people not in their seats, why is that? In their minds, part of it — some of it might be the economy — but my best guess is that one common thread would be that they long for excellence to be present on a regular basis. They long for it. That day is coming.
Derek Dooley is the right guy at the right time. He really is. I believe that I think we'll have the stadium full again on a regular basis. But I'm not offended that some people are hesitant, maybe disappointed. That's all part of the rebuilding process.
Q: Have you had time to set any long-term goals?
A: I really haven't. I've tried to get my arms around the immediacy of what we want to get done in those first couple of months. That first six months and then that first year.
Let's not lose in translation the fact that there are a lot of terrific things already in place at the University of Tennessee. Mike Hamilton did a terrific job in building facilities here. We've got a good foundation in place. I think our No. 1 priority is what direction are we going in and how do we get everybody moving in that same direction.