The unrelenting letter to the editor, postmarked June 21, arrived in Knoxville by way of Tallahassee, Fla.
JoAnne Graf, Florida State's softball coach from 1978-2008, recalled 13 years of discrimination and inequity. Her former athletic director, she wrote, was a "bully (to) women both directly and indirectly." Her former athletic director was "threatened by strong, independent women." Her former athletic director was "definitely not an advocate for women."
Her former athletic director is current Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart.
In a June 16 News Sentinel story on the anniversary of Title IX, Hart stated, "People ask me, with (former UT women's athletic director) Joan (Cronan) retiring, who will be the advocate for women's athletics? That's always struck me as odd because I will be the advocate."
That statement, Graf wrote, made her "incredulous."
"Dave is really good at appearing to do the right thing, but when you look behind the scenes that's when you really begin to find out that he's not an advocate," Graf said in a follow-up interview with the News Sentinel. "I had to fight for everything that our softball program got down here, it was like nothing could be handed to us."
Hart declined an invitation to respond to this story.
Several other coaches and administrators from both Tennessee and athletic departments Hart previously led, however, spoke in his defense. They lauded him as a committed leader in women's athletics. UT senior women's administrator Donna Thomas went so far as to say, "I believe he is as much or more of an advocate for our young women as anyone who has ever worked here."
Cronan, a torchbearer of UT women's athletics from 1983 until being named special adviser to the chancellor and women's athletics director emeritus last year, echoed Thomas, saying,
"To think the University of Tennessee would ever hire an athletic director that's not supportive of women's athletics is wrong. I was on the search committee and I've known Dave Hart for 30 years. He's totally supportive of women's athletics."
Hart served as Florida State AD from 1995-2007 following eight years in the same position at East Carolina (1987-95). One of the main highlights of FSU women's athletics during his tenure was the softball program's nine Atlantic Coast Conference titles and 2002 Women's College World Series appearance.
Graf ranked as college softball's all-time winningest coach with 1,437 wins when she retired from Florida State in 2008. The softball field was renamed JoAnne Graf Field at the Seminole Softball Complex in April of 2005. Hart and Florida State president Dr. T.K. Wetherell oversaw the ceremony.
Graf's portrait of Hart at FSU is of an administrator who cradled male coaches and programs, but cast female coaches and programs adrift. "We weren't given anything because we earned it," she told the News Sentinel. "We had to constantly go in and ask for an equitable facility, ask for equitable treatment for the assistant coaches, ask for a raise, ask for things for the student-athletes."
She claimed he used the "fear factor of losing your job" to muzzle outspoken female members of the athletic department. "It was very clear that he's not to be questioned," said Graf, a six-time ACC coach of the year honoree. "His decisions are the things that basically need to be followed."
Graf, who earned a Ph.D. in physical education at FSU, is a sports management professor at the university, teaching Current Issues in Sport Management, Diversity in Sport, Sport Governance, Ethics in Sport and Human Resource Management in Sport.
In an email to the News Sentinel, Wetherell, FSU's president from 2003-09, said, "During my presidency I never had a female coach, staffer, (graduate assistant), or athlete make or raise any harassment issues either directly or indirectly nor formally or informally. When Dave left FSU, every women's program was clearly stronger than when he took over as athletic director."
As a self-proclaimed Title IX advocate, Graf said she would bring up "instances of inequities" at Florida State and get "called in and called on the carpet" by Hart. She said she reported her problems to FSU Title IX coordinator Dianne Harrison because she could express issues "without fear of retaliation."
Harrison, now the president at Cal-State Northridge, confirmed that Graf filed complaints to her office, but added that FSU's women's athletic department "took great strides under Hart's leadership."
Graf pointed to the disparity of female administrators to male administrators on Hart's senior staff (four women among 24 positions) at Tennessee as an example of inequity.
"It's disturbing to me that there are so few women in upper management in the Tennessee athletic department," Graf said. "I'm not surprised it's happened because I know his attitude, but I am disappointed."
Cronan replied saying, "It's a concern and Dave knows it's a concern and he's working through that in the transition just like we're working at the university in all areas to have diversity and have equity."
Two current coaches of women's teams at Florida State, soccer coach Mark Krikorian and basketball coach Sue Semrau, presented a different picture of Hart than that of Graf.
"In terms of gender equity and supporting women, the best thing I can say is that Mr. Hart made me and our women's soccer players feel like (Florida State) was a women's soccer school," said Krikorian, who was hired by Hart in 2005 and spearheaded the school's first appearance in the national championship game in 2007.
Noting positives stemming from Hart's tenure, Krikorian pointed to improvements in FSU's state-of-the-art facility, competitive pay for assistant coaches and allocated resources in academic, strength and conditioning and video support.
Improvements to FSU's women's facilities, Graf countered, were mandated by the school's Title IX compliance office and "Dave happily took credit."
According to Krikorian, when recently hired Tennessee women's soccer coach Brian Pensky called him to ask about his experience with Hart, Krikorian praised Hart and recommended Pensky pursue the job.
Pensky, Hart's first coaching hire at Tennessee, replaced Angela Kelly, who left the Lady Vols to take over at Texas. Asked of her one-year experience working under Hart, Kelly only responded, "Tennessee is a wonderful place!"
Concerning Hart being proactive or reactive in his approach to equity, Semrau said, "Without question he'll be proactive in equity for women's athletics. Does (the UT's men's and women's athletic department merger) mean that women's athletics won't get the same kind of support and resources that they need? Absolutely not, in my opinion."
Hart hired Semrau in 1997. The three-time ACC coach of the year is now FSU's all-time leader in wins.
In response to questions on Hart's management methods with women's coaches, Semrau said, "Dave believes in a leadership style that has been extremely successful, but it's not always everyone's favorite style. It's effective and efficient."
Holly Warlick, whom Hart promoted to women's basketball coach amid Pat Summitt's retirement in April, added, "I have a great relationship with Dave. I'm very comfortable with him and he's never told me no on anything. Since April he's been extremely supportive."
As for Alabama women's athletics, the program Hart left behind upon coming to Tennessee in September of 2011, the Crimson Tide won three women's national championships — softball, golf and gymnastics — in 2011-12. Hart worked as Alabama's assistant athletic director from 2008-11.
"I don't know if you'd find (Hart's influence) on the results per se, but speaking for the two coaches I directly work with, he appreciated what they did every day," said Marie Robbins, Alabama senior women's administrator. "He wouldn't necessarily say it every day, but if a team had a big win, he'd be right on the phone to congratulate them. Coaches appreciate that."
In Hart's 20-plus-year career as a senior athletic administrator, at least three conflicts with women's athletic department personnel resulted in legal action.
After current Yale women's basketball coach Chris Gobrecht, Hart's first female hire at FSU, resigned in 1997 one year into a five-year contract to coach at USC, Florida State sued for breach of contract and Gobrecht countersued with a Title IX suit.
Gobrecht declined comment citing a settlement.
In January, Hart was named alongside Alabama president Robert Witt, athletic director Mal Moore and the school's board of trustees in a civil lawsuit by former cheerleading coach Debbie Greenwell.
Greenwell was fired in February of 2009 after 22 years at Alabama. According to The Birmingham News, on what would be her final day on the job, Hart presented her a letter stating:
"Based on the information that we have obtained in an ongoing investigation, we are concerned about your conduct and poor judgment in dealing with University property, funds, authority and other important aspects of your job."
In July 2011, Greenwell filed a civil lawsuit for gender discrimination and wrongful termination after receiving a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On the same day, she was arrested and charged with one count of theft of property in the first degree and two counts of ethics violations as a public employee, according to The Birmingham News.
In January, Greenwell re-filed filed her lawsuit to include defamation, slander and libel as a result of Alabama requesting the Tuscaloosa County district attorney seek an indictment of financial malfeasance, according to Greenwell's civil complaint. Hart was again named alongside Witt, Moore and the school's board of trustees.
Then there is Debby Jennings.
Tennessee's former associate athletics director for media relations is pursuing a claim with the EEOC for her alleged forced retirement in May.
In a letter to UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek on May 18, Jennings' attorney David Burkhalter claimed an ultimatum to retire or be fired was retaliatory and discriminatory.
The letter, which states "the men above (Jennings)" were responsible for an atmosphere of "increased hostility, harassment, curtailment of responsibilities, isolation and other forms of retaliation," mirrors verbiage used in Graf's letter to the editor and Greenwell's civil complaint.
In a statement issued the day after Burkhalter's letter was delivered to Cheek, Hart said Jennings was "insubordinate, disrespectful and fostered an atmosphere of negativity and division" and that he "gave her the opportunity to retire instead of being terminated, and she chose that option."
Jennings' complaint remains open-ended. A filing with the EEOC is expected, while a possible civil suit remains. She declined comment through her attorney.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn