Sports dynasties are nothing new to Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart.
He was a college basketball player at Alabama when Bear Bryant was making a legend of himself in football. Then, as an athletic director at Florida State, Hart had Bobby Bowden for his football coach.
Bowden's Seminoles finished in the top five of the Associated Press poll for 14 consecutive seasons. They also won a couple of national titles and perhaps would have won several others if not for all those slightly wayward field-goal tries.
In the midst of that all that success, Hart tried to impress fans with how unusual it was. "You're living a dynasty," he would tell them.
UT women's basketball fans know all about that. Their program won eight national championships, played in 18 NCAA Final Fours, won 16 SEC regular-season championships, and won 16 SEC tournaments in 38 seasons under coach Pat Summitt, who stepped down last week as head coach and accepted a position as head coach emeritus.
Hart said that when he looked at all of her accomplishments, it was as though "somebody was making this up." He was speaking from experience.
Hart grew up around athletics. His father, Dave Sr., was a high school and college football coach before he became better known as a college administrator — first as an athletic director at Louisville and later in the same position at the University of Missouri.
The younger Hart's college days at Alabama and his job as athletic director at Florida State enabled him to experience sports dynasties firsthand. His lifetime in organized sports enabled him to realize dynasties are rare and finite.
Fans living through their program's glory days aren't always as realistic. So Hart can appreciate the challenge that Summitt's successor, Holly Warlick, faces.
In fact, the Lady Vols' dynasty ended before Summitt was forced to quit coaching because of early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. UT hadn't been to a Final Four since it won its last national title in 2008. It has become a top-10 program, not a Final Four program.
That's not just an indicator of UT's decline. It's a testament to the better competition. More universities are taking women's basketball seriously, and recruits have figured out that you don't have to go to UT or Connecticut to win a national championship.
The last two national championships have been won by Baylor and Texas A&M. Maryland won a national title in 2006.
Women's basketball still has nowhere near the parity that the men's game does. But the parity is such that a once-elite program can't drop its name at the door and proceed directly to the Final Four.
UT painfully realized that three years ago when Ball State beat it by 16 points in the first round of the NCAA tournament. A year later, Baylor beat the Lady Vols by 15 in the Sweet 16.
The next regular season could be as jolting as an early-tournament exit. UT has lost five seniors, including two who were among the top-four picks in the recent WNBA draft. Moreover, two of its best returning players — Taber Spani (knee) and Cierra Burdick (back) — have health issues.
Whatever happens next season could be overshadowed by what happens with the 2013 recruiting class. If the Lady Vols can land a top class, that would be a huge achievement in a transitional year. It also would be a strong indicator that the program can eventually return to the Final Four and compete for championships.
But the Lady Vols aren't living a dynasty anymore.