Wrapping up a momentous week in University of Tennessee athletics, Dave Hart outlined his vision of a leaner, more efficient department Saturday in the spring meeting of the athletics board.
"We've set a very clear direction of where we want to go and how we want to get there," Hart said, seven months to the day he took over as vice chancellor of athletics.
"For our coaches, our student-athletes and staff, we're raising the bar. We're raising standards across the board. That's the only way you get better."
UT announced last June it would bring the separate men's and women's departments under one roof. Hart arrived in September to direct that overhaul.
Ten days ago, he revealed the merger of men's and women's swimming and diving under the direction of Lady Vols coach Matt Kredich.
Monday, UT unveiled a restructuring of the department that will lay off 17 employees and save $2.5 million.
"We simply had a volume of people, driven by the fact that we had been separate programs for a long time," Hart said.
Then came word that Pat Summitt is stepping aside to become head coach emeritus of the university's most successful national brand, women's basketball.
Hart said the fundamental restructure is in place, with only tweaking to come. The department morale, he said, is positive.
"Most of our coaches and staff were longing for a direction and we've got one," he said.
A couple of tweaks were discussed Saturday. Todd Dooley will head a strengthened compliance office. The board was informed that UT has closely studied the recent NCAA infractions report for North Carolina to "avoid going down the same path."
Donna Thomas will leave her post as director of the Thornton Center (for academics and student life) to be the senior women's administrator.
Hart said anxiety that
the Lady Vols brand will be diminished is unfounded.
"I've been asked, 'who will be the advocate for women's athletics?' and to me, that's a strange question," Hart said. "Every place I've ever been, the advocate is me.
"My track record will fully support that statement."
UT's need to become more efficient was outlined for the board in context of the challenging financial climate that is affecting all of college athletics.
The department plans to break even for the fiscal year and make its $6 million contribution to the university. However, Hart is concerned that the reserve nest egg is a mere $5.5 million.
"I look at the people we are competing against to build a championship-level program, and those people have reserves of $50 to $100 million," he said.
"We need to focus and prioritize long term."
That's not encouraging news for those who want to see a volleyball/indoor track facility built soon. Hart said it's "still in the master plan" but, "we're prioritizing from a realistic perspective."
Getting football healthy is a top priority. UT's subpar recent history has come at a time when ticket sales nationally are waning in all but the most successful programs. There are currently 2,300 non-renewals for season tickets at Neyland Stadium.
Other facility improvements are on the way after the current football complex revamp is completed but Hart declined to say what they are.
There are also technology-related plans afoot to enhance fans' ability to interact while in attendance at live events.
"We will not allow our financial challenges to cut into the fiber of our pursuit of excellence," Hart said. "We will not."