Dave Hart: Tennessee's brand remains strong

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart, right, watches the game against Memphis at Thompson-Boling Arena, Friday, Jan. 4, 2012. UT lost 85-80. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart, right, watches the game against Memphis at Thompson-Boling Arena, Friday, Jan. 4, 2012. UT lost 85-80. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

University of Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart introduces new head football coach Butch Jones during a press conference in the Peyton Manning Locker Room Complex at Neyland Stadium Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

University of Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart introduces new head football coach Butch Jones during a press conference in the Peyton Manning Locker Room Complex at Neyland Stadium Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has a steep hill to climb before the Volunteers can fully recover from all their recent setbacks — on an off the field.

Athletic director Dave Hart knows it won't be an easy process.

His background gives him a unique perspective on the gap separating Tennessee from the top Southeastern Conference football programs.

Hart arrived at Tennessee in the fall of 2011 after working at Alabama, which just won its third BCS title in the last four years. He knows the difficulty of competing in the SEC and realizes what Tennessee must do to start competing for league championships again.

He believes new coach Butch Jones understands what it takes as well.

"He has a great understanding of the total picture," Hart said. "He wants to re-engage with lettermen, with high school coaches. He's spending a lot of time balancing a lot of balls. He's very, very proficient at multitasking. He knows recruiting is at the top of the priority list because we've got to go find football players who can help us return to the top of the pyramid, in the SEC and nationally."

Hart doesn't believe the Tennessee brand has been tarnished by the Volunteers' tumultuous recent history.

Tennessee has posted three straight losing seasons in football for the first time in a century, and Jones wasn't the first choice to replace Derek Dooley. Hart hired Jones — who will be the Vols' fourth coach in a six-year stretch — last month after Louisville's Charlie Strong announced he'd turned down an offer from Tennessee.

"Certainly we've had a very tough five years or so, a run that we're trying to come out of," Hart said. "Internally we are setting the foundation to come out of it."

He pointed to the Vols' fan base as evidence of the fact the Tennessee brand remains strong.

"They've been extremely supportive through some very rough waters," Hart said. "We've been in choppy seas, and yet they haven't been intimidated, nor have they been deterred."

As it attempts to rejuvenate its football program, Tennessee's athletic department is working at a financial disadvantage. The athletic department reported a $3.98 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year that caused its reserve to drop to $1.9 million, the lowest total in the Southeastern Conference.

Hart noted that other SEC schools have reserve of anywhere from $50 million to $100 million. Hart said he eventually wants to build the reserves back up to $50 million, though he didn't set a timetable for it.

"That's not an overnight process by any stretch of the imagination," Hart said.

Steps have been taken to address the athletic department's budget issues.

Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek has announced the athletic department would keep $6 million each of the next three years instead of contributing that money annually to the university as it had done previously. That $6 million annual donation had been used primarily for scholarships and fellowships, which now will be funded primarily through private gifts.

"We still have to be very mindful that we're still not flush with revenues," Hart said. "We're certainly not going to allow our financial position to impact our pursuit of comprehensive excellence."

Hart also noted that he would like to continue scheduling one high-profile nonconference football game per year. The Vols travel to Oregon this season and will end up playing road games against the Ducks and Florida on back-to-back weeks. Tennessee's other nonconference games are at home against Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama.

Tennessee opened its 2012 season against North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome, and Hart said he wouldn't mind scheduling something similar in the near future.

Hart also remained confident that Tennessee could continue its men's basketball series with Memphis, though it's increasingly unlikely they will meet next season. Tennessee's 85-80 loss to Memphis last week represented the last game in the contract between these two schools, but Hart and Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen have been negotiating future matchups between the in-state rivals in men's basketball as well as other sports.

"I'm not so concerned with there being a one-year gap (in the series) as I am about there being a multi-year gap," Hart said. "I don't think either Tom or I want that to occur."

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Comments » 37

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Really???

The men's basketball team is boring as hell. Only the loyalty of the fans is keeping a decent crowd there. Pretty soon, you'll need the curtains.

The football team is what I grew up with in the 1970's...lot's of talk, terrible teams.

Yet, you feel the 'brand' is strong?? Where I live, away from Tennessee, the program is a "has been".

How can I argue??

BruisedOrange writes:

As I remember it, some other brands that were strong, right up until...

Oldsmobile?
Pontiac?
Compaq?
Pan Am?
TWA?

ronburgundy (Inactive) writes:

Bad football, bad basketball and bad baseball. Now even the vollyball team is falling apart. No where to go but up I guess. Just keep sending in those checks.

born2ride writes:

Bottom team in football and basketball stinks. Ladies have fallen off without Pat. Dave Hart must be in la la land.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

The UT brand is strong, and when CBJ turns the fb program around that $50,000,000 will seem like a drop in the bucket..GBO!!

Rosie writes:

It's a shame hoops is so disappointing this year. Was hoping for better. Martin not showing much. As far as butch- hoping for the best, but don't see him ever being an sec or national champion. Hope I'm wrong

VolFanHoping writes:

Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. We've heard the same thing about all our programs for the last 10 years. The only thing that's changed is how many more millions everyone involved keeps getting paid.

wigmeister writes:

With all do respect, the brand might be strong again at some point, but not in the present. Football team - bottom. New coach, hopeful improvement. Men's bball, not good. Might be better with Maymon next year, but don't feel coaching is meshing with players. Boring style of basketball. Lady Vols - doing well in first year away from Pat, and with a good recruiting class coming in. Ladies Volleyball - just lost 4 top players. Baseball - Haven't a clue yet whether improvement is on the way. Men and ladies golf - have some good new recruits coming in. Men's and ladies tennis - depends on the new players coming in. Swimming and diving holding their own. Track and field is up in the air. If you take a good look, the income sports are not doing well. That is only what most of the fan base is interested in. That is what sets our brand in the SEC and beyond. Without strong showings in those sports, you can kiss a large chunk of income goodbye. That is reality.

jt45 writes:

Strong at what ? The Women's BB program has been the only consistent winner, year after year. It is amazing that a University with the facility,s UT has, the fan base UT has and the location UT has can consistently get beaten in almost every sport. Substandard should NOT be what a young person sees when considering UT.

underthehill writes:

The expertise of Dave Hart was clearly displayed by the Sunseri contract as well as where his real loyalty lies..Saban got Thompson back and UT got the shaft...

thevoice writes:

"Internally we are setting the foundation to come out of it."

Huh? What was wrong and what are you doing to fix it?

thevoice writes:

in response to Rosie:

It's a shame hoops is so disappointing this year. Was hoping for better. Martin not showing much. As far as butch- hoping for the best, but don't see him ever being an sec or national champion. Hope I'm wrong

I know you don't like the Jones selection, but please disclose the alternative.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wrong, the brand must be stronger than ever, why else would trolls like yourself constantly worry about everything UT related??

BruisedOrange writes:

BRAND is reputation, recognition, identity, and what people think you bring to the table.

Simply put, our "strong brand" means kids still think of Tennessee as a big name sports school, and parents still think of Tennessee as running ethical, reputable sports programs.

"Brand" probably gets us a lot of 4th and 5th choice visits from recruits. They may be 80% committed to another school, but they still think of Tennessee as a place you need to make sure you checked-out before deciding.

The fact that even our recent unsuccessful football teams still send players to the NFL (and juniors into the draft) counts toward a strong brand in recruits' eyes.

But just one year without that happening, matched by another losing season, would have the same effect as Pontiac's Aztek, Sunfire and G3.

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

The UT brand is strong, and when CBJ turns the fb program around that $50,000,000 will seem like a drop in the bucket..GBO!!

Absolutely right. It's gonna take more than a couple of bad coaching hires to undo a school as rich in tradition as ours. I have no reason to believe that CBJ will not be successful at UT.

MikeInTN writes:

The man has a helluva job to do!! Good luck to him & GBO!!

VolFanHoping writes:

in response to lemme_axya_this:

Absolutely right. It's gonna take more than a couple of bad coaching hires to undo a school as rich in tradition as ours. I have no reason to believe that CBJ will not be successful at UT.

I think it's been more than a "couple:"
Sanders
Cutcliff (just used us until another HC job came along)
Clawson
Peterson
Pearl (cheated, lied, and tried to get others to help him do that)
Raleigh
Kiffin
Dooley
Sunseri
and probably Martin

Sunshine27 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

To be fair:
We might be on a "nebraska" track in football. Remember how powerful they were?? Now, in the Big Ten, they are an upper-level team...or a low-mid SEC team.

Basketball can be turned around much faster than football, as we saw some guy named Bruce do.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

True....but Bama also has players playing above their real abilities because they believe (rightfully) they will always win.

UT had superb offensive talent this season...but no confidence in making the winning play (mizzou, MSU, UGA, USC...).
Know what I mean??

Sunshine27 writes:

You staff people are socialists. The facts are facts....Hart is a bum. What are you people tryin to hide it for. You're bums too.

Sunshine27 writes:

First off, I'm a huge UT fan, but facts are facts. The atmosphere at UT stinks. I wish BJ lots of luck. But with Hart and Cheek roaming the halls we are doomed. Hart flat out lied to you when he said Gruden had no interest...he in fact did. He wasn't cheap but he had interest...lots of it. The classless inept brain dead non Vol blood people making decisions for UT do not want it as bad as we do. Until they are out we will continue this run of pathetic athletic performance.

Sunshine27 writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well said Billy.

LiveFaith writes:

The whole Gruden hand-wringing incident is for absolutely delusional humans. People still concocting Sasquatch rivaling stories. Easy to see how false religions can crop up so quickly.

BruisedOrange writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Not sure what your response had to do with my post.

I'm confident though that there are more high school players who dream of playing in the NFL than dream (only or primarily) of winning a Nat'l Championship.

And if the NFL is their dream, they understand there are 3 things they need from a college:
- physical development
- coaching that improves their technique and football I.Q.
- and--absolutely necessarily--PLAYING TIME.

From the field it's possible to get to the NFL through small colleges in lesser leagues, like B.J.Coleman did. Can't do it from the bench, even at Alabama, LSU, et.al.

Training facilities, coaching, and competition that are NFL-worthy, matched with a tradition of 1st round draft picks AND free agents who went on to long, successful NFL careers... these are part of the branding that Tennessee can still call upon (but not for much longer) to attract interest from 4-star players.

BruisedOrange writes:

What TRULY frightens me is our near empty re$erve!

The national economy will not be getting better soon. We're probably headed into a long, painful period, marked by high taxes, loss of charitable deductions, leaving the middle class and college grads get by holding multiple part-time jobs.

The article says the Athletic Department's reserve has dropped to a paltry "$1.9 million, the lowest total in the Southeastern Conference ... other SEC schools have reserve of anywhere from $50 million to $100 million."

That leaves us with the thinnest of buffers against lost revenues from loyal fans who can no longer afford season tickets, or even occasional gameday tickets. Our state's increasing dependence on tourism dollars means our fan base will be hit especially hard.

The football program's survival might come down to PayPerView purchases by Vol fans who've relocated for good paying jobs in the natural gas fields of Texas, Pennsylvania, and the Dakotas! Can you imagine, the best selling swag of 2014 might be Big Orange welder's caps?

Classof72 writes:

It was very good of Hart to attempt to hire Charlie Strong. However, he didn't get it done. It's recruiting; if you don't get the people, you won't win the games. Sometimes you stumble onto a diamond. Maybe Coach Jones will be such a diamond. It doesn't usually work that way, but let's hope. Also remember that hope is not a plan. Get it done, or accept the consequences.

rbwtn writes:

I'm hard core Tennessee Fan and always have been BUT I'm getting a little tired of having my hopes dashed in almost every game in basketball and Football and one other thing when you have a Great Coach, that has put us on the Map nationally and told a little white lie to the NCAA instead of firing him Stick with him and don't be such a wimp. We would be over most of those sanctions by now and it's going to take a long time to get our basketball situation in order at Tennessee. I'm sorry to say, not because of our current coach but because of our current loosing Image. Now I hope we understand the Coach really has a lot to do with Recruiting and a winning attitude and shows it by his eagerness on the court and on TV too. The last A.D. destroyed the Image of TN for years!

RealisticVol (Inactive) writes:

"other SEC schools have reserve of anywhere from $50 million to $100 million." That is because, in spite of the idiot football haters, the football team has been drained of $6 million a year by the academic side, not the academic side being hurt by the football program. UT is one the few universities (2 or 3 I think) that has been getting money from their football program. Haters gonna hate though regardless of the facts.

RealisticVol (Inactive) writes:

in response to rbwtn:

I'm hard core Tennessee Fan and always have been BUT I'm getting a little tired of having my hopes dashed in almost every game in basketball and Football and one other thing when you have a Great Coach, that has put us on the Map nationally and told a little white lie to the NCAA instead of firing him Stick with him and don't be such a wimp. We would be over most of those sanctions by now and it's going to take a long time to get our basketball situation in order at Tennessee. I'm sorry to say, not because of our current coach but because of our current loosing Image. Now I hope we understand the Coach really has a lot to do with Recruiting and a winning attitude and shows it by his eagerness on the court and on TV too. The last A.D. destroyed the Image of TN for years!

People knew Hamilton was a bad pick when he was promoted. It caused a furor at the time. It just shows academics with a chip on their shoulder toward the free enterprise market system and, therefore, refuse to pay up to get the best, end up wrecking the system. Those who can, do. Those who can't, go into academics and hate the system they couldn't make it in.

Rosie writes:

in response to thevoice:

I know you don't like the Jones selection, but please disclose the alternative.

he may be the next best thing. i personally like his style, and i'm behind him. but our a.d. seemed unprepared for the search as auburn, ky, ark all had coaches before we did. is that the ultimate factor in wins or loses- no. but it took foley 3 days to hire muschamp, which tells me- he knew who he wanted and was prepared. that would help instill confidence in a fan base.

rtrchatt writes:

in response to emailnodata:

True....but Bama also has players playing above their real abilities because they believe (rightfully) they will always win.

UT had superb offensive talent this season...but no confidence in making the winning play (mizzou, MSU, UGA, USC...).
Know what I mean??

No, I have no idea what You mean. Talent alone does not win games/championships. Leadership, competitive spirit, discipline and teamwork put a team over the top. Rocky flop may have "some" talent but sorely lacking in the other areas. Bottle throwers always finish last lol......

Bama fb, #1 NATIONALLY in national championships, bowl wins, 10 win seasons and 23 SEC Titles. That is a NATIONAL BRAND.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to rtrchatt:

No, I have no idea what You mean. Talent alone does not win games/championships. Leadership, competitive spirit, discipline and teamwork put a team over the top. Rocky flop may have "some" talent but sorely lacking in the other areas. Bottle throwers always finish last lol......

Bama fb, #1 NATIONALLY in national championships, bowl wins, 10 win seasons and 23 SEC Titles. That is a NATIONAL BRAND.

Only in fb, the rest of bama sports are mediocre and certainly not national brands.

traderjoe writes:

Well, if I were making $750,000.00 a year, I would claim the Tennessee brand is strong..lol. Maybe...but it's obvious all the sports programs stink. Did Hart say the buck stops here or give me 3 years to straighten out this mess or until my retirement goal is met. We'll have to see if CJ is the answer and we'll get our first clue on recruiting day when we see how he measures up with all the other new hires in the SEC. Actually, we shouldn't have any problems here since we have the best coaching staff in the country.

LaneBrains writes:

The cost of the silly decisions, made by the previous AD, Chancelor, and others is continuing to climb.

Now $18MM to the university and its students, plus old and new contracts to coaches. Mike Hamilton, Cheek and crew...what a shame.

The Brand has been damaged...and will take many years to repair.

What is the lesson? And have we learned anything yet?

lknvol writes:

Cheek needs to go before the brand will start to recover. He and Hamilton presided over the dismantling of the AD and Cheek has not been held accountable!!

VolFanHoping writes:

in response to lknvol:

Cheek needs to go before the brand will start to recover. He and Hamilton presided over the dismantling of the AD and Cheek has not been held accountable!!

Here here!! The day Cheeky decided to give Hammy $1.3 million not due him because it "was the right thing to do," and then come to find out we're broke AND our programs suck, all adds up to me asking, "who is accountable up there?"

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