Dave Hart, J.J. Clark want to see Tennessee get back on track

Hart confident Clark can boost sagging results

News Sentinel
Tennessee coach J.J. Clark was all smiles after being awarded a new Mercedes for leading the Lady Vols track and field team to an  NCAA indoor national championship in 2005.

Photo by Cathy Clarke

News Sentinel Tennessee coach J.J. Clark was all smiles after being awarded a new Mercedes for leading the Lady Vols track and field team to an NCAA indoor national championship in 2005.

Mike Strange talks about the state of Tennessee's track program

At the NCAA outdoor track and field championships last month, sophomore Tyler Porter cleared a bar to tie for seventh place in the men’s pole vault.

That was the highlight for the University of Tennessee at the national championship. The only highlight.

Porter earned 0.75 points for the Vols. The Lady Vols didn’t score, just as they didn’t score at the NCAA indoor championships in March.

“I don’t think anyone is happy with where we are,’’ UT athletic director Dave Hart told the News Sentinel.

“I know J.J.’s not content from his desk, or I’m not from my desk, or the fan base.’’

J.J. is J.J. Clark, the director of a combined men’s and women’s program the past four years. Before that, he was a coach of a Lady Vols program that won NCAA indoor titles in 2005 and 2009.

The current swoon is not indicative of Clark’s career. He has won five SEC cross country titles (two at Florida, three at UT) and three SEC indoor titles with the Lady Vols. He has also coached his wife Jearl and sisters Joetta and Hazel on U.S. Olympic teams.

“Look at my record,’’ Clark said Wednesday. “We graduate student-athletes and we win championships. That’s my record.’’

The Lady Vols had a tough year — hit hard by graduation losses — but were competitive in 2012.

However, the men’s team, a perennial SEC contender and a top-five NCAA outdoor team as recently as 2007, has languished since the programs were merged in 2009.

The decline actually began that spring in coach Bill Webb’s final season as men’s coach before retiring. A couple of weeks later, Clark was named director of the joint program.

But on his watch, the Vols have scored a combined 8.75 points at four NCAA outdoor meets and have finished ninth, eighth, 10th and, most recently, 11th at the SEC outdoor meet.

Those results would likely get a football coach fired. Tolerance is greater for non-revenue sports like track that don’t have to fill a stadium.

Hart’s mission statement is “comprehensive excellence.” He remains confident Clark is the coach to make it happen. Clark earns $245,000 a year to oversee track and field and cross country.

“If I didn’t have confidence in any of our coaches,’’ Hart said, “they wouldn’t be sitting in that chair.’’

Hart, who is winding down his second year as athletic director, says combining the men’s and women’s teams was the right call, even though it happened before he arrived. He has since merged men’s and women’s swimming.

Clark declined to be specific as to why getting the men’s program going again has been more difficult than anticipated.

“We were in a transition phase all across the board,’’ he said. “When there’s change, you have to go back, sweep it clean and start over.

“It’s probably not appropriate to go into great detail. I’m not going to tell you I have all the answers. I do know that some things just don’t need to be said. That’s best for all involved.’’

The clean sweep involved firing men’s assistants George Watts and Norbert Elliott one year into the process. It wasn’t a popular move with alumni from a men’s prograDm that won its third NCAA outdoor title in 2001.

“I’m certainly attentive to the fan base,’’ Hart said, “but I would never allow the fan base to make a decision.’’

Clark said some alumni have been supportive, while others have remained distant.

“I’ve learned you do things your way and you’ll be successful,’’ he said. “Sometimes people may be resistant here and there but do it your way and things turn out fine.’’

He believes the stage is set for both the men and women to see substantial progress next season.

“We’re at the point where we’re ready to go to work,’’ he said. “That’s a good spot, getting everybody on board, understanding what’s tolerated and what’s not tolerated.

“We are at that point right now.’’

Most of UT’s scorers at the 2013 SEC meet were young and have development potential. Incoming recruits include Felecia Majors, the Virginia state Gatorade athlete of the year, and Florida sprint champion Jerimy Strainge.

Clark just hired throws coach John Newell from Michigan State to replace John Frazier, who left for UCLA. Newell will earn a salary of $78,000, according to UT. Clark said a new men’s sprints coach with a national reputation will be announced soon, as will several other signees.

“The idea is we have to move forward,’’ Clark said. “I have a record that indicates that’s going to happen.’’

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Comments » 24

LHOOQ writes:

Why prolong the futility? Hart obviously doesn't care about the track program, or a change would have been made. Clark asks people to look at his record -- that includes a downhill spiral of 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th in the SEC championships. Enough said. Whatever competence he showed in the past is long gone, even on the women's side. His revolving door for assistant coaches has been disastrous. If I were a top-notch recruit, I would not want to get on board this sinking ship. It's sad to see how far the program has fallen.

trgclychip writes:

At this point, I am left speechless.

pvtoe writes:

Get it over with. FIRE CLARK NOW!!!

VolFanHoping writes:

The UT Athletic Department seems to just use the same talking points for each program; "making progress," "improve," "become," "work," "try," blah, blah, blah. The only phrase you never hear is, "we won."

Munsterlander writes:

2009 is becoming quite a while ago. Am absolutely embarrassed for the men's program. No shortage of athletes and coaches who were great ... until they weren't. Not encouraged.

snafu14u#241639 writes:

The Track Team (both) is a slightly easier rebuild than the footVol team for the right people....these are not the right people. Bonzai Vol

CarrieM writes:

It is so sad to see what has happened to this once-proud program. Change is definitely needed, Mr. Hart.

ktownddy writes:

What did Dave Hart have to say about no indoor facility? Couldn't possibly effect recruiting...

tonyvick#213307 writes:

I use to be good...is the reason you should keep me?

83Vol writes:

“We’re at the point where we’re ready to go to work“ ... so what was the last 4 years?? Probably the only job in America where one can do nothing but decline for 4 years and then get started!

HoraceMorris writes:

Not the biggest track fan in the world, but even I can see Clark is a huge failure. No way should he have ever been given the reigns to the men's side. The track team used to compete for SEC and NCAA titles on a yearly basis. Not any more. Guess they're a reflection of the whole athletic program over there.

rbwtn writes:

I do remember the day with Big Orange would really do good in Track nationally in fact I was impressed cause we didn't pay attention to it at that time. Now look at us; Softball, who'd a thunk it? Baseball, Track, Even Golf. We've come a long way baby!

MetroplexMojo writes:

in response to 83Vol:

“We’re at the point where we’re ready to go to work“ ... so what was the last 4 years?? Probably the only job in America where one can do nothing but decline for 4 years and then get started!

I think the last two people to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue disprove that theory...

TrackVol1975 writes:

I guess Dave Hart has spoken. It will be interesting when the 40th anniversary of our 1974 NCAA Track Championship comes around next year. The cross country alums celebrated the 1972 NCAA title 40th anniversary with no official ties to the university. My guess is that unless things change and unless Hart and J.J. actually reach out to the track alums, you will see something similar in 2014.

We are not as stupid as the university wants to think we are. The program is in the toilet and none of the track alums believe that the fortunes of the current team will change, as it is obvious the people in charge don't care.

The track and XC alums are not trying to micromanage the program, nor are we trying to give orders to Dave Hart, no matter what he might tell the N-S. We are just noting what is obvious to everyone else, even if Hart will not publicly acknowledge what I am sure he fully understands in private.

brokendownoldvol writes:

I remember the 70's TN won the SEC track championship every yr. What happened?

budd#207344 writes:

If JJ really wants to improve Tennessee track he should resign.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to brokendownoldvol:

I remember the 70's TN won the SEC track championship every yr. What happened?

I'm not sure but I think they aren't eligible now.

Track in general was better back then when track and swimming were popular. Today Football and basketball get the athletes I'd guess.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Well, when 100,000 fans show up for track events UT will probably be inclined to replace Clark.

Razor784 writes:

Ridiculous that this clown still has a job, he's single handedly run a once great program into the ground, he's definitely the Derek Dooley in UT track and field history.

ReRerun writes:

Why does the administration care more about covering for an obviously incompetent coach than they do their student athletes? These young women and men deserve to be provided the opportunity to compete to the best of their talents, but are not being trained, motivated or encouraged to do so. Why does the administration not care that during practice the head coach's professional athletes are being provided more instruction and time than the university runners? Why are they even training at the same time? Why does the administration not care that the pros are provided transportation to meets paid for by the university? These pros take up space, each one taking up a seat or two, while the UT runners are often forced to sit two to a seat. Why does the administration not care that the pros use rooms paid for by the university? Does it matter that "the room wasn't being used"? Can't one cancel a registration at a hotel? Who books these rooms? Isn't it known beforehand how many athletes on the team are traveling? You know what? It's not. The athletes don't even know if they're traveling or not. They find out by not being handed an agenda the day before the team leaves for a meet. There is no discussion on why one isn't traveling; now isn't that superior coaching and a decent way to treat your athletes? Why doesn't the administration care that typically the athletes don't know what event they are competing in until the day before or day of a meet? Why doesn't the administration care that the student athletes aren't given specific goals, workouts tailored to each runner or well thought out critiques after a run? Many of these student athletes had dreams and the talent to continue their running careers after graduation. Why doesn't the administration care that these young adults are being robbed of their talents and dreams? I have no connections to any former coaches or anyone formerly on the team as I have read about in other Internet blogs. My only connection to this deplorable situation is my daughter. My child is stuck in a dreadful situation, has no way out, yet, no one cares about her or her teammates only about continuing to protect a man who is making $250,000 yearly while not doing his job. Why, when it is flagrantly apparent that the track and field program is being run in an substandard, inferior and unacceptable manner, is the head coach being allowed to continue to train professional athletes? Aren't these student athletes deserving of a coaching staff and a legitimate befitting training program allowing them to compete at their maximum potential?

83Vol writes:

in response to ReRerun:

Why does the administration care more about covering for an obviously incompetent coach than they do their student athletes? These young women and men deserve to be provided the opportunity to compete to the best of their talents, but are not being trained, motivated or encouraged to do so. Why does the administration not care that during practice the head coach's professional athletes are being provided more instruction and time than the university runners? Why are they even training at the same time? Why does the administration not care that the pros are provided transportation to meets paid for by the university? These pros take up space, each one taking up a seat or two, while the UT runners are often forced to sit two to a seat. Why does the administration not care that the pros use rooms paid for by the university? Does it matter that "the room wasn't being used"? Can't one cancel a registration at a hotel? Who books these rooms? Isn't it known beforehand how many athletes on the team are traveling? You know what? It's not. The athletes don't even know if they're traveling or not. They find out by not being handed an agenda the day before the team leaves for a meet. There is no discussion on why one isn't traveling; now isn't that superior coaching and a decent way to treat your athletes? Why doesn't the administration care that typically the athletes don't know what event they are competing in until the day before or day of a meet? Why doesn't the administration care that the student athletes aren't given specific goals, workouts tailored to each runner or well thought out critiques after a run? Many of these student athletes had dreams and the talent to continue their running careers after graduation. Why doesn't the administration care that these young adults are being robbed of their talents and dreams? I have no connections to any former coaches or anyone formerly on the team as I have read about in other Internet blogs. My only connection to this deplorable situation is my daughter. My child is stuck in a dreadful situation, has no way out, yet, no one cares about her or her teammates only about continuing to protect a man who is making $250,000 yearly while not doing his job. Why, when it is flagrantly apparent that the track and field program is being run in an substandard, inferior and unacceptable manner, is the head coach being allowed to continue to train professional athletes? Aren't these student athletes deserving of a coaching staff and a legitimate befitting training program allowing them to compete at their maximum potential?

Stunning...

VOL99 writes:

It gets bad when parents start complaining about the coach! What a waste of money to pay a coach for a program that has fallen so far off the college track world. We use to have great athletes from around the world in every event, unlike Arkansas. When you were a Tennessee Tack Athlete you understood that you were the best of the best. You knew that you were expected to compete against Arkansas for SEC and National Championships. Come on, how many coaches is he going to use as scape goats and fire before someone in the UT Athletic Department wakes up and holds this guy accountable? Apparently there is no ownership, pride, and leadership in this sunken ship. Not from the ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT! This is totally unacceptable DH!

trgclychip writes:

Stunning indeed.

Colliervol writes:

Should have fired this clown and made Norbert Elliot the head coach when they had the chance. A great coach and even better person.

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