John Adams: Dave Hart about to leave his mark on another UT sport

John Adams
University of Tennessee vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart walks away from his announcement that Cuonzo Martin is leaving for California from the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2014.   (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2014

University of Tennessee vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart walks away from his announcement that Cuonzo Martin is leaving for California from the Ray Mears Room at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2014. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee fans greet coaching changes with a shrug. What’s one more hire for an athletic program that always seems to be looking for a new something?

The next new coach will conduct his business in the office just vacated by Cuonzo Martin, who took off for Cal after three seasons at UT.

The possibility of Tennessee changing coaches in a major sport once qualified as big news. Now, it’s routine.

And it’s probably not the routine Dave Hart had in mind when he became UT athletic director in 2011.

Tennessee had just hired Martin as its basketball coach. Derek Dooley was in his second season as football coach. On the women’s side, no one could imagine the Lady Vols without Pat Summitt as their basketball coach.

But Summitt had to retire after the 2011-12 season because of illness. Later that school year, Dooley was fired after a third consecutive losing season. Now, a few weeks after Martin took the Vols to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, he’s gone, too.

Baseball coach Dave Serrano seemingly just got here. Yet before the end of his third season, he will have been here longer than his fellow coaches in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

All of this has put Hart in an unexpected position of impact for a Tennessee administrator. He will have the opportunity to hire coaches in the school’s three most high-profile sports — football and men’s and women’s basketball — within a two-year period.

Tennessee fans can only hope he does better than his predecessor,

Former athletic director Mike Hamilton distinguished himself in men’s basketball. He hired basketball coach Bruce Pearl, who took the Vols to six consecutive NCAA tournaments before he was fired for violating NCAA rules and lying about his actions to NCAA investigators.

Hamilton’s hiring of Martin looked shaky as late as February of this year. But the Vols overcame a 16-11 start and played their best basketball down the stretch of the regular season and in the NCAA tournament. Next thing you know, Martin had become a hot coaching commodity.

Hamilton’s other hires — to put it kindly — didn’t work out as well as hoped.

Football coach Lane Kiffin left for the head-coaching job at Southern California after one season and Dooley never had a winning season.

Baseball coach Todd Raleigh was fired by the man who hired him after never finishing higher than fifth in the SEC East.

It’s too early to judge Hart’s Tennessee hires.

Lady Vols basketball coach Holly Warlick has made Hart look smart so far. She is 56-14 after two seasons, has won the SEC regular-season and tournament championships and made it to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

Jones’ first UT football team was 5-7, but it didn’t impact his approval rating among fans, who realize how down the program is and are enthused about his recruiting. And Jones has a great knack for making fans feel important. They’re enthused about that, too.

In each hire, Hart demonstrated an awareness of the fan base he was serving.

The only way he could ease the departure of a legendary coach was to hire Summitt’s longtime assistant. In football, he needed a coach who could rally a fan base weary of losing and replenish a roster short on talent. Jones is off to a good start on both fronts.

Although the basketball program hasn’t plummeted to football’s depths, it has similar needs — a coach who can energize the fans and upgrade the recruiting.

Based on Hart’s previous hires, he understands what the program needs.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

© 2014 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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TNlogfire writes:

Ty, the master of the obvious...

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