Dave Hart doesn't have to look hard for challenges in his first year as Tennessee's athletic director. All he has to do is check the SEC standings in most men's sports.
But while Hart oversees UT's attempted ascent in numerous sports, credit him with not losing sight of what came before. He's reviewing the criteria the school has established for retiring the jersey numbers of its most accomplished student-athletes.
Before 2005, UT had retired the numbers of only four football players, all of whom were killed in World War II. No one would question their selection.
Nor should they question that three other players — Peyton Manning, Reggie White and Doug Atkins — were later honored by the retirement of their numbers. All three excelled with the Vols before gaining more fame at the NFL level. Atkins and White already are enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. It's just a matter of time before Manning joins them.
But based on the current bizarre criteria, UT's Retired Jersey Club won't lose its exclusivity anytime soon.
Never mind what someone did as a Vol. He could become the school's first Heisman Trophy winner and still not have his number honored forever more, because the requirements for admission are based as much on what you did in the NFL as for what heroics you performed at Neyland Stadium. You must meet three of the following criteria: hold a major season or statistical record, make five Pro Bowls, be honored as an NFL offensive or defensive player of the year, make the NFL Hall of Fame.
Obvious question: What does a pro career have to do with UT? Another obvious question: Why the discrepancy between football and men's basketball?
You must meet two of the following criteria to have your number retired in basketball: first-team All-American, SEC player
of the year, Olympic basketball team, NBA all-star. That would enable a player to have his number retired without playing beyond college.
No wonder that, if you discount the football players who were killed in World War II, UT has retired the numbers of as many basketball players as football players. And men's basketball hasn't made it to the Final Four, much less won a national championship.
Nothing extraordinary would be required to improve the standards for honoring UT's best players. Common sense would suffice. Measurable accomplishments should serve as guidelines, not as ultimate determinants.
Former UT linebacker Al Wilson certainly deserves consideration. He was a first-team All-American and two-time All-SEC player. He also was the unquestioned leader and star player on UT's 1998 unbeaten, national championship team. Some fans probably believe his number should be retired solely for the devastation he wreaked on Florida's vaunted offense in UT's 1998 overtime victory.
But the first name that comes to mind when you discuss retired jerseys is still Johnny Majors'. He finished second in the Heisman voting as a player in 1956 and restored the Vols to football prominence in his 16-year run as head coach after leading Pitt to a national championship in 1976. When you weigh all he did for UT football, why would you penalize him for what he didn't do as a pro?
Former UT coach Phillip Fulmer was selected to the college football hall of fame Tuesday. But the Vols don't need an outside source to honor Majors, his predecessor.
This is an inside job. And all it takes is common sense.