Dave Hart applauded his predecessor for the University of Tennessee's enhanced athletic facilities, but there's still work to be done, he told the Big Orange Tipoff Club at its weekly luncheon Wednesday.
"We have some of the finest facilities in America," said Hart, who has served as UT's vice chancellor and athletic director for the last five months. " Mike Hamilton (the previous AD) did a great job."
But Hart believes the Vols can do better by their student-athletes.
"When I toured Thompson-Boling (Arena) for the first time, I started at the top and walked down," he said. "It was first class in every respect.
"But when I went to our men's and women's locker rooms, I felt like I got in a time warp and went back to the mid-80s."
Updating those facilities will be a priority of Hart's, who stressed the welfare of UT's student-athletes throughout a brief speech, and the lengthy question-and-answer session that followed.
"When I talk to prospective student-athletes and their parents, not one time has a parent asked me, 'Mr. Hart, could you show us a sky box?'
"That's important. It's important to us because we value our donors and alumni."
But Hart said parents and guardians of recruits are much more interested in where the student-athletes will sleep, eat, train and receive academic support.
"Can I see the locker room?" they ask.
"I've always been very student-athlete centered," he said. "Every decision we make, 'How does it impact them?'
"We're here representing the University of Tennessee because of the students. ... The priorities (for facilities) will be shifted to those areas that primarily affect the student-athletes."
He cited the volleyball program as an example in emphasizing the importance of improved conditions for the student-athletes.
"We need a place for volleyball to practice," he said. "When the hailstorm came through last year, the roof practically caved in at Stokely (Athletic Center). Since then, it has been a hunt-and-peck situation for them."
Hart touched on a wide range of other subjects during the luncheon.
— He praised Lady Vols associate head basketball coach Holly Warlick and the other assistant coaches for their efforts during a trying season. They have had to bear a heavier workload since head coach Pat Summitt's role has been limited by her illness, early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.
— UT's athletic director wants to play games in Memphis "for obvious reasons."
"We need a presence throughout the state," he said. "We're the flagship program in the state. We have an obligation to promote our university." The Vols played at Memphis in football in 2010 after a home game against the Tigers in 2009. UT has played Memphis in basketball eight times since 2001.
Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner said earlier this year that if it were his decision, the UT-Memphis series would end after next season's game.
"We'll have a presence (in Memphis) one way or another," Hart said.
— It didn't take UT fans long to win over their new athletic director.
"I've been taken aback by the passion of our fan base," Hart said. "And their patience, to be honest. Three of our programs (football, basketball and baseball) are in the rebuilding stage.
"Our fans have been absolutely terrific."
— He likes the expanded title for his job.
"The title (vice chancellor for athletics) really excited me," he said. "I remain appreciative of (chancellor) Dr. Jimmy Cheek to be a part of his cabinet. I think it's really important that I be able to see the big picture — to educate one another what the issues are and what the challenges are.
"Our No. 1 priority is the university. We're the most visible ambassador.
"Monday morning largely is dictated by what happened at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. It's true on campus, in the classroom — it's true everywhere. We have to embrace that's the reality of how we affect everybody in the state and on the campus."
— Hart isn't happy with the late start for some televised basketball games, including the 8 p.m. tipoff for Wednesday night's game between UT and Arkansas at Thompson-Boling.
"Wednesday night is hard," he said. "That's a church night in the Southeast. People have to go to work the next day."
Hart said the individual schools are "not powerless but the window of opportunity is limited" in lobbying for starting times during the negotiations of television contracts.
— The increased interest in an expanded method for deciding college football's national championship is fine with Hart.
"I've been a playoff proponent for 25 years," Hart said. "Postseason football is an evolution. I've never believed that the evolution was complete. We're getting to the point where the next step will unfold.
"We're not talking about a 16- or 32-team (playoff) format but (about) the national championship being determined by what they do on the field in more than one game."
— Hart said he was more interested in retiring jerseys than numbers to honor the program's outstanding athletes.
"I don't think you retire numbers," he said. "You retire jerseys to honor those people."
UT already has retired the numbers of Peyton Manning, Reggie White and Doug Atkins in football. It also has retired the numbers of four players — Bill Nowling, Rudy Klarer, Will Tucker and Clyde Fuson — who were killed in action during World War II.
The criteria for retiring a jersey in football is extremely strict, and Hart said, "That's on our plate for discussion."
— Hart said SEC athletic directors will meet the day before the SEC women's basketball tournament in Nashville to discuss future scheduling for basketball.
"We are going to play 18 (conference) games," he said.
Texas A&M and Missouri will begin SEC competition in the fall of 2012 in all sports.
— Hart said his wife, Pam, was one of the many fans in Thompson-Boling who didn't agree with the technical foul call on Glory Johnson in UT's 91-54 victory over Kentucky on Monday night.
"I had to calm (his wife) down," he said. "She doesn't normally direct her emotions at officials."
Hart said he told his wife she needed to "settle down."
She responded: "Are you watching. That was a terrible call."
"Fortunately (SEC commissioner) Mike Slive was not our guest that evening," Hart said.