Q&A with new UT athletic director Dave Hart

'Excellence' still the goal for merged departments

Dave Hart talks about his role as the University of Tennessee's new athletic director during a news conference Sept. 5 at Neyland Stadium. Hart previously was the executive director of athletics at Alabama.

Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2011

Dave Hart talks about his role as the University of Tennessee's new athletic director during a news conference Sept. 5 at Neyland Stadium. Hart previously was the executive director of athletics at Alabama.

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.

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Comments » 38

Orangeblood13 writes:

how come you have no life?

vut56#231073 writes:

Well, to say the right things, one has to think them first. Then, one has to back up the words with deeds. Seems he is on the right track. He has stated his goals and seems willing to be held accountable for them. Good start and we should be patient..within reason.

seadaddy writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

How come you are such an attention seeker?
Go find a girlfriend...Jr

volguy#211935 writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

He resigned due to philosophical disagreements with T.K. Wetherell. It was well documented for those who, you know, can actually read.

volguy#211935 writes:

T.K. Wetherell was the president of FSU at the time.

bUTchVFL writes:

I'm excited that we finally have strong leadership at the AD position.

underthehill writes:

I have not talked to one long time Vol fan who has any idea what the reason was for hiring this guy..who was run off from Florida State..NO matter what the reason the bottom line is he was not rehired (fired)
What can he possibly do for UT that a current staff member could not have done??
and at a fraction of the cost..As UT's revenues go down (which seems inevitable) given our current lack of ability to compete in football and no reasonable expectation for it to improve..there's going to be a lot more people asking the questions I'm asking now...

flatrock writes:

in response to underthehill:

I have not talked to one long time Vol fan who has any idea what the reason was for hiring this guy..who was run off from Florida State..NO matter what the reason the bottom line is he was not rehired (fired)
What can he possibly do for UT that a current staff member could not have done??
and at a fraction of the cost..As UT's revenues go down (which seems inevitable) given our current lack of ability to compete in football and no reasonable expectation for it to improve..there's going to be a lot more people asking the questions I'm asking now...

"no reasonable expectation for it to improve..." Isn't that a bit dramatic, underthehill?

Pullingguard writes:

Gotta be impressed with this guy, UT seems to have found the right person for the AD job. I do think we will be very result oriented.

Pullingguard writes:

in response to underthehill:

I have not talked to one long time Vol fan who has any idea what the reason was for hiring this guy..who was run off from Florida State..NO matter what the reason the bottom line is he was not rehired (fired)
What can he possibly do for UT that a current staff member could not have done??
and at a fraction of the cost..As UT's revenues go down (which seems inevitable) given our current lack of ability to compete in football and no reasonable expectation for it to improve..there's going to be a lot more people asking the questions I'm asking now...

Darn, how would you like to be married to this guy..or gal??? How do you spell it... Nagitivity, nagging, or just negative... Look for the light to get out of that underthehill for its a bad place.

RockyTopinAlabubba writes:

Im kind of hesitant about this guy,cause of his UA roots. But, I kind of like him too. We will see how he plays out. GO VOLS!!!

69grad writes:

Please stop saying that worn out phrase: "at the end of the day".

orangepeel writes:

It is obvious that UT has not learned anything from past mistakes. In 1970 Bob Woodruff insisted on hiring Bill Battle a former Alabama football player and Bear Bryant worshiper. Col Tom Elam and other trustees wanted to hire Johnny Majors but Woodruff won out. Battle took UT from a team that could beat anybody in the country and turned them into a team that had to struggle to beat Vandy in only 7 years. Once again UT made a mistake in hiring an Ala alum to run UT's athletic dept when we had the perfect choice in David Blackburn already at UT. I can see nothing good coming out of this hire just a further collapse of now all athletic programs at UT. An Ala man should never be hired in a position of authority at UT.

AHoffman writes:

in response to bUTchVFL:

I'm excited that we finally have strong leadership at the AD position.

If what you say is true about the new AD being a strong leader, then there will be issues with the Haslams.

gortrtt writes:

Hart could be a dufus and still be a step up from the previous AD, Mike Hamilton, who orchestrated the dismantling of our football and basketball teams with his misfires, bad hires, and bad leadership.

That being said, I can't think of anyone acquainted with Hart who has brought up anything negative about him other than the fact that his contract at FSU wasn't renewed. Apparently, from the comments made by Cheek and Cronan, Hart left the Seminoles for reasons other than subpar performance by the school's teams or character issues.

The way I see it, whether Hart wants to earn his way back to the AD position at Alabama or wants to build a dynasty at Tennessee, he is going to be motivated to improve our standing in the SEC and nationally.

crimsonviper writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why did Urb leave Florida like his @$$ was on fire?

underthehill writes:

in response to flatrock:

"no reasonable expectation for it to improve..." Isn't that a bit dramatic, underthehill?

reasonable is not dramatic..no it is not dramatic it is just being sensible enough to know what we are looking at..and that is trying to stay ahead of Vandy, Miss State, Ole Miss and Kentucky...blind loyalty is dramatic ..

underthehill writes:

in response to orangepeel:

It is obvious that UT has not learned anything from past mistakes. In 1970 Bob Woodruff insisted on hiring Bill Battle a former Alabama football player and Bear Bryant worshiper. Col Tom Elam and other trustees wanted to hire Johnny Majors but Woodruff won out. Battle took UT from a team that could beat anybody in the country and turned them into a team that had to struggle to beat Vandy in only 7 years. Once again UT made a mistake in hiring an Ala alum to run UT's athletic dept when we had the perfect choice in David Blackburn already at UT. I can see nothing good coming out of this hire just a further collapse of now all athletic programs at UT. An Ala man should never be hired in a position of authority at UT.

100 per cent correct ..The people who did this are counting on UT fans to show "Loyalty" while they have stabbed them in the back..that may be asking a bit too much...

Couchdummy writes:

in response to 69grad:

Please stop saying that worn out phrase: "at the end of the day".

Throw in "It is what it is" and "whatever". We are unfortunately surrounded by a multitude of such phases that people use........whatever.

BigBadVol writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Please seek help!

YRGatorsRunninUTK writes:

A tremendous listing of buzz words, but no substance at all in this interview. A real reflection on Cheek!

One question for all of you: Could you wake up this morning and be a die hard Bama fan? I don't think so. It will be impossible for him to be passionate about UT and without passion he cannot lead effectively. He can do the administrative part, but leadership is a totally different element. One that this university currently lacks.

Pullingguard writes:

If championships in any and all sports were related to the negative attitudes of that teams fans and supporters then the University of Tennessee would be crowned the champion each year. Did you know!!! Attitudes and personaltities are generated from youth by their surroundings.

Couchdummy writes:

Regarding the photo: Does UT have a closet that stores the same orange and white necktie used in introductory press conferences? Isn't it the same necktie used by Dooley, Martin, Raleigh and Pearl?

NashvillePreds writes:

This guy seems like a positive.

underthehill writes:

in response to NashvillePreds:

This guy seems like a positive.

What positive? what can he do for UT that a current staff member could not do? Did UT get value for its money..I don't think so ..time will tell..

tennrich1 writes:

in response to underthehill:

I have not talked to one long time Vol fan who has any idea what the reason was for hiring this guy..who was run off from Florida State..NO matter what the reason the bottom line is he was not rehired (fired)
What can he possibly do for UT that a current staff member could not have done??
and at a fraction of the cost..As UT's revenues go down (which seems inevitable) given our current lack of ability to compete in football and no reasonable expectation for it to improve..there's going to be a lot more people asking the questions I'm asking now...

I was reading underthehill until you starting being inaccurate and you lost me....at least, when trying to make a point, please be truthful because I have found on these sites PLENTY of people will call you out when you're not and its really a waste of time...and the day goes on!!!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to orangepeel:

It is obvious that UT has not learned anything from past mistakes. In 1970 Bob Woodruff insisted on hiring Bill Battle a former Alabama football player and Bear Bryant worshiper. Col Tom Elam and other trustees wanted to hire Johnny Majors but Woodruff won out. Battle took UT from a team that could beat anybody in the country and turned them into a team that had to struggle to beat Vandy in only 7 years. Once again UT made a mistake in hiring an Ala alum to run UT's athletic dept when we had the perfect choice in David Blackburn already at UT. I can see nothing good coming out of this hire just a further collapse of now all athletic programs at UT. An Ala man should never be hired in a position of authority at UT.

"I can see nothing good coming out of this hire" ...at least you're honest about yourself!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to YRGatorsRunninUTK:

A tremendous listing of buzz words, but no substance at all in this interview. A real reflection on Cheek!

One question for all of you: Could you wake up this morning and be a die hard Bama fan? I don't think so. It will be impossible for him to be passionate about UT and without passion he cannot lead effectively. He can do the administrative part, but leadership is a totally different element. One that this university currently lacks.

Its called professionalism. Ever been hired away to another large company paying you 6 figures??? Trust me when your paycheck is coming from a different source your "loyalties" change quickly.... You guys are trying to make a soap opera out of football, basketball etc....opinions that never would be in the real world seem to pervade sports like a spat between two 5th graders...makes it hard sometimes to enjoy sports for what it is...

underthehill writes:

in response to tennrich1:

I was reading underthehill until you starting being inaccurate and you lost me....at least, when trying to make a point, please be truthful because I have found on these sites PLENTY of people will call you out when you're not and its really a waste of time...and the day goes on!!!

and intelligent people point out what they consider inaccurate..I don't see where u did that..sorta immature don't you think..the only people I see calling someone out are those with their heads in the sand or elsewhere..everyone is entitled to their opinion even you...

CroKev writes:

This is a business decision and a very good one. The AD doesn't have to be from UT; he just has to put the staff together that will win, resulting in a lot of fund-raising.

When I was with IBM, the CEO was always someone who began their career with IBM. The problem with that is that you become insular. IBM eventually hired an outsider when they were on the ropes and the guy turned the company around and they're doing great today.

What we needed was not another good ol' boy from within but a proven leader whom we could afford. Hart has been around the best and his own self-survival instincts will dictate that he will do everything within his power to make us successfull.

underthehill writes:

in response to CroKev:

This is a business decision and a very good one. The AD doesn't have to be from UT; he just has to put the staff together that will win, resulting in a lot of fund-raising.

When I was with IBM, the CEO was always someone who began their career with IBM. The problem with that is that you become insular. IBM eventually hired an outsider when they were on the ropes and the guy turned the company around and they're doing great today.

What we needed was not another good ol' boy from within but a proven leader whom we could afford. Hart has been around the best and his own self-survival instincts will dictate that he will do everything within his power to make us successfull.

When have we had a "Good ole boy" ? Hamilton was not one..I don't think eliminating anyone with UT ties is wise and only time will tell..DO you or anyone think having UT ties should eliminate you from working for them? I don't.
Where do you get this guy is a proven leader..Florida State didn't seem to think so and he was there quite a while...

NashvillePreds writes:

in response to underthehill:

What positive? what can he do for UT that a current staff member could not do? Did UT get value for its money..I don't think so ..time will tell..

The man seems to be a leader, and has a solid understanding of challenges and obstacles which stand in the way of success.
As far as the University of Tennessee obtaining "value for its money," I'm quite sure it is an impossibility of running an NPV analysis on a human hire.
I would like to get you thoughts on such a metric.
Your statement of a, "current staff member" is nebulous, and not quantifiable.
Perhaps you should change your name to Underthebridge.

Bigger_Al writes:

I like his style. It is good to have a guy that Cheek hired that can go have the types of discussions that need to be had at that level for the benefit of the product on the fields and in the arenas. I don't think anyone internal would have the same clout with Cheek.

clvolfan writes:

in response to seadaddy:

How come you are such an attention seeker?
Go find a girlfriend...Jr

WELL SAID!!!

FWBVol writes:

in response to orangepeel:

It is obvious that UT has not learned anything from past mistakes. In 1970 Bob Woodruff insisted on hiring Bill Battle a former Alabama football player and Bear Bryant worshiper. Col Tom Elam and other trustees wanted to hire Johnny Majors but Woodruff won out. Battle took UT from a team that could beat anybody in the country and turned them into a team that had to struggle to beat Vandy in only 7 years. Once again UT made a mistake in hiring an Ala alum to run UT's athletic dept when we had the perfect choice in David Blackburn already at UT. I can see nothing good coming out of this hire just a further collapse of now all athletic programs at UT. An Ala man should never be hired in a position of authority at UT.

Are you seriously comparing Bill Battle and Dave Hart? The only thing they have in common is both graduated from Alabama.

Battle, as you mentioned, played football for the Bear. Hart played basketball for C.M. Newton.

Bill Battle was 28-years old and was promoted from receivers coach to head coach and had never been a head coach even in high school.

Dave Hart is 62 or has been a proven athletic director for more than 20 years at East Carolina and Florida State.

All the people with their conspiracy theories about Hart being a hit man from Alabama who has come to destroy the UT athletic department crack me up.

Hart is a good man who I believe will do a good job for Tennessee.

givehim6 writes:

He spoke like a true politician, saying lots of words without giving his real agenda. But he is new to the job so he does not want to make any waves. Think he will do good for UT, he will do good by UT's football program.

poletad7 writes:

in response to seadaddy:

How come you are such an attention seeker?
Go find a girlfriend...Jr

He had one, but she fired him!

GBOEngineer writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I guess that your opinion of Hamilton is based on your numerous personal interactions with him.

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