It has been easy to be critical of UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek throughout the process of trying to hire Mike Hamilton's replacement as Tennessee's athletic director, but the Vols went out and finalized the deal for perhaps the best name that emerged as a viable candidate.
Dave Hart, the University of Alabama's executive director of athletics, was introduced Monday night in a press conference as UT's new vice chancellor and athletic director at UT. Forget for a second the fact that he went to Alabama on a basketball scholarship and spent the past three years as Mal Moore's No. 2, he acted All Vol at the press conference. Who wouldn't be for a salary with a base package of around $800,000? This is HIS athletic department now, and hopefully, he realizes it's a place where he can end his career if he continues the good work he has done in the past.
The 62-year-old Hart brings with him 20 years of experience as athletic director at East Carolina University and Florida State University, where he was twice named athletic director of the year for the Southeast region and was widely praised for his work with the football program and in bringing FSU's Olympics sports to an elite level. He is also a recipient of the Robert R. Neyland award for lifetime achievement in athletics. In my opinion, he's a much, much better hire than LSU AD Joe Alleva or Georgia Tech AD Dan Radakovich would have been.
Though Hart was expected to be a prime candidate to replace Moore when he finally retires, Hart noted multiple times at the press conference that he and his wife are not transient people and he is privileged to be at UT.
"He's committed to the University of Tennessee for the long term," Cheek said.
This is, by pretty much all accounts, a fantastic hire. Even Hamilton -- ever the class act -- went to twitter to praise the move, and Hart is revered in athletics administration circles. From several friends and even a couple of donors that I know associated with UA, this is a big blow to them. Most people knew that Moore had become a figurehead and Hart actually handled most of the day-to-day operations. For example, when basketball coach Anthony Grant was hired at UA, he thanked Hart before Moore.
Any time you can take a recruit, coach or administrator from a rival program, I believe it's a good thing. And I'm willing to forgive Hart for attending Alabama if his heart is truly with us now. He certainly has the pedigree to lead and excel for us. In all honesty, when an athletic department is run as smoothly as UA's has been the past few years, I have no problem poaching.
Anyway, I'm going to hit some high points from the presser, and forgive me if some of these quotes are a couple of words off. I was frantically transcribing and didn't have a tape recorder onhand.
- Before Cheek turned it over to Hart, he presented him with an orange adidas Tennessee polo and said, "We expect you to wear this proudly." Hart said he would.
- The biggest positive, in my opinion, from the presser was the fact that Hart took everything head on, and didn't dodge any questions. Before opening up questions to the media, he addressed the crimson elephant in the room: "It's a privilege -- and I want to stress that word -- to be named vice chancellor and athletic director at the University of Tennessee. ... I want this to be perfectly clear: I am absolutely, totally committed to Tennessee. I wanted to get that out of the way so you guys aren't tripping over each other to ask the Alabama question." [again, these quotes are probably choppy enough to be called paraphrasing, but you get the gist...] "This is where my passion is from this night forward."
- Hart also noted that saying these things is like respect, it has to be earned over the years. He said he'll have the opportunity to prove that he's not just paying lip service about being dedicated to UT.
- Hart relayed a story that when he was AD at ECU for eight years, he had a conversation with boss and friend Dick Eakin letting him know a list of five schools he'd have to listen to if they came calling and trying to get him to become their AD. He said UT was on that list. [Obviously FSU was, too, since he left for that job, and you'd have to think Bama was there, too, though he didn't mention it.]
- Another noteworthy item Hart mentioned is his son Rick worked at UT in an assistant athletic director capacity, and he is currently the AD just down the road at Chattanooga.
- Cheek said the university is on "the right path upwards" after the NCAA didn't impose any additional penalties, with three new head coaches in place and now with the hire of Hart. Hart said of coming into a situation where he has three new coaches: "I think that's an exciting element of taking this position." He also noted he'd meet with all the coaches tomorrow.
- On working with Dooley and his meticulous details, Hart indirectly compared it to working with Nick Saban. "Here's what Nick Saban wants, here's what Derek Dooley wants and here's what Dave Hart wants -- excellence all around them." He also knows Derek and his wife Allison already.
- On having the title addition of vice chancellor, Cheek noted that "I wanted to make sure everybody understands there's an academic component of athletics and an athletic component of athletics." Indicated Hart's strong background in both and also said that was an intriguing part of the job to Hart was the addition of that title.
- When asked about the academic scandal during Hart's tenure at FSU, Cheek said he had conversations with FSU's chancellor and wanted it to be known that it was "not an athletics matter that influenced academics." Hart added that his leaving as AD and the scandal coming to light were "two events that were unrelated chronologically."
- According to an article published on AL.com last week ... here's a brief synopsis of the FSU situation:
During Hart's 13 years at Florida State, the athletic department budget and revenue more than doubled.
Hart left FSU in the fall of 2007 after learning that his contract was not going to be renewed. He maintained that his departure was not a direct result of an academic misconduct scandal.
Florida State self-reported NCAA violations late in 2007. Early in 2009, Florida State was hit was a four-year probation and was ordered to forfeit victories and individual honors.
From the fall of 2006 through the summer of 2007, FSU reported to the NCAA that 61 student-athletes in 10 sports cheated on an online test. Three former members of the school's Athletics Academic Support Services department were parties in the cheating, an internal investigation revealed.
Please help me out if there were pertinent points I failed to mention, and please give your thoughts of the hire in the comments below. Go Vols! I'm excited about this hire, and I hope he doesn't bolt for Tuscaloosa in a couple of years.