In the middle of an interview Thursday at his office, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart turned and pointed to a mural stripped across the wall above his desk.
The poster boasted of "COMPREHENSIVE EXCELLENCE" and it included UT athletes of every stripe — not just football.
"That," Hart said while jabbing toward his wall, "becomes easier when football is successful."
Rebuilding the football program is both the most critical and most challenging task of Hart's tenure.
Many of Tennessee's hopes and aspirations for returning to the elite place in college football it regularly occupied a decade ago rest on the shoulders of new coach Butch Jones, who was hired last week from Cincinnati to replace Derek Dooley.
But Jones can't be expected to do it alone, Hart said.
"We've had a tough run. We've had five or six years now what people would define in terms of production as pretty mediocre," Hart said. "That's not who we are, that's not what we want, and we're working very hard to come out of that.
"We're not there yet. Butch didn't bring a magic wand, and nobody else would have either, but he has a great plan. He knows what he wants and how to work that plan."
Some excerpts from the News Sentinel's talk with Hart.
Q: What has Butch's first week been like? Do you speak to him regularly to help him learn the ropes at UT?
A: Yeah, we talk a lot, even by phone, because he's been on the road. In terms of my mode of operation, coaches know that they have total access to me as a priority. I saw him (Thursday) morning when he got back off the road.
There are a lot of transitional issues that we're trying to nail down, as he completes his staff and he goes out recruiting. We're trying to give him all the insulation we can administratively and help him wherever he needs it.
Butch is a real genuine person, which you'll learn. He wants to be accessible, to the extent a football coach's time will permit that. He's very into social media. He wants people to know him, he wants to know people. He wants to get to know the high school coaches, he wants to get to know the lettermen.
The guy is a great multitasker — not that all coaches don't have to have a semblance of that trait. But he's got a terrific work ethic and he can keep a lot of balls in the air, a lot of priorities, at the same time.
Q: Some have said this hire is so important it could determine your legacy at UT. Is that going too far?
A: It is important. I don't know about legacy, but I think this: My No. 1 priority is to get football healthy. I've never wavered from that. The reason that's a top priority, beyond the obvious, is that football is the economic engine. But it's more than that. What happens at Neyland Stadium affects everybody. It affects everybody on our campus, it affects people in our local market, if affects people in Tennessee and alumni everywhere. It's the center of our collective pride nerve. If we're running a clean, successful program, everybody benefits. Everybody. Monday mornings are better. People's dispositions are better. People work together better. It's not an exaggeration.
But you can't put it all on the coach. We have an obligation administratively to build the foundation. The football coach, he's got a lot to focus on. We need to be building the supportive infrastructure. We need to identify where we're weak and turn it into strengths. We can't allow the Football Training Center, which is fabulous, to skew the reality that there are a lot of other things we need to put into place. Some of that is facilities — our outdoor practice footprint, being one, a residence hall being another one.
I've been blessed. I've been at a couple of places (Florida State and Alabama) where we reached that pinnacle of success. People who excel, they have support from the top of pyramid all the way down.
We know our role within the university structure. We're not the most important thing at this university — never will be, never should be. What we are is the most visible element within the university structure. The football coach, whether we like it or not, and whether he likes it or not, is the face not only of the athletic program, he's the face of the university.
I know the fans are looking at success on the field, and I get that, but it really transcends that. That person becomes the face of the university. He has to operate with integrity. He has to understand the university's goals. He has to see the bigger picture. He has to forge meaningful relationships with people internally and externally.
Now coaches all know at the end of the day, it comes down to results on the field. We could have resurrected Vince Lombardi, and he would had to win on the field. But that's not to say that those other prongs aren't essential, because they are. I think Butch Jones possesses all the skills that are needed in a very complex job description with a lot of stakeholders.
Q: Are you pleased with the staff he has assembled to this point?
A: I think he has struck a good balance with his staff. You need continuity, you need people who you trust and people who know how you operate and what your expectations are. And he's got that in the people who are coming from him in his previous positions. He's won everywhere he's been.
Another thing I look for is who has a coach learned from? Who are his mentors? He's got a great tree in that regard. He's formed his own philosophy, but like most great leaders, he's learned from the best and he's incorporated some of what they've taught him into his own philosophy.
Q: Is it safe to assume you weren't clicking reload every five minutes on Internet message boards during the search?
A: I'm not offended at all that we have some fans who had their favorite person. That's not offensive. I have loved the passion of our fans. Great organizations have common threads — passion is one. Organizations with negative energy can't get where they're going. Organizations who are indifferent never excel.
So give me passion. I don't want a fan base who's indifferent. Give me the passion that our fan base possesses. I love it. I'm not offended by it. I'm not offended by social media. I'm not offended by reports saying that I talked to so-and-so when I never talked to so-and-so. That's part of our business.
Q: Did the early fixation by some fans on the candidacy of Jon Gruden set unrealistic expectations for the search?
A: I think there's a real element to that. I think people did become, to use your word, somewhat fixated on Jon. I reached out to Jon very early in the process and even tentatively went about the task of setting up a visit. But I learned very quickly from Jon's agent that Jon's happy doing what he's doing.
He loves Knoxville, he loves Tennessee — that's very real. Jon loves Tennessee, but he's got a great job and he's happy what he's doing and he's not going to coach college football. And eventually that went very public.
Q: Because the SEC is so competitive, Tennessee's path back to the top tier of the league almost has to coincide with the decline of someone else — whether Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, LSU or others. Those schools have great coaches and passionate fan bases, too. How confident are you that UT won't be in the same place three, four or five years from now, dealing with the same questions that are being asked now?
A: Your point is well taken, because it is a cyclical industry. When we were rolling in the 1990s, a lot of those programs were down, which meant we could go into their backyard to recruit. They were rotating coaches, for the most part. Now they've acquired what we want: They've acquired stability. I didn't want us to be in this environment. I didn't want us to have more transition. But the results demonstrated that we needed to make the change we made (in firing Dooley last month). And Derek understood that and I think everyone understood that.
But you don't want somebody coming into this environment, afraid of this environment. We don't want somebody thinking, 'Well maybe I can't get it done there.' We don't want that coach. We want somebody who loves that challenge, and we've got that person.
Now he has no delusions of grandeur. He knows we're not there. He knows we've got to roll our sleeves up and we've got a tough task ahead of us. But he embraces it. And that's another quality that we desperately need.
I don't have a crystal ball. Am I confident? I am confident that if we put the infrastructure in place, we can do it. You can't put it all on the coach. You can't put it all on Derek Dooley. You can't put it all on Butch Jones. We have an obligation administratively to put the foundation under him and give him everything he needs to be successful, and we're committed to doing that. That's part of the challenge to get back to that foundation.
Just because we made a coaching change doesn't mean we're going stream-roll everybody on our schedule. What it does mean is we have a new beginning. We have a very enthusiastic head coach and staff who want to put their arms around this thing and tackle it. And it means we have to help them. We can't give this coach the same short stick that Derek was handed. We can't do that, and we won't do that.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.