On April 27, The Daily Beacon sports editors, Matt Dixon and Clay Seal, sat down for an exclusive interview with Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart.
The first time we met, you had only been on the job for one month. How's the adjustment going?
"Still in progress. It's been a good adjustment. I'm honored to be in this leadership role, and the people in Knoxville, our fan base and our alumni, have been absolutely terrific. But I'm still very much in that 24/7 mode, which is not a surprise and I anticipate that to be the case until we probably get into the month of July. But that's how it should be. That's not unexpected."
Does it ever settle down?
"I think you're always on and you're always busy. That's just the nature of the profession. I think we've reached a point in our profession, and I'm not talking about just administration but about coaches and others in this profession, the only real chance you get to slow down is the Fourth of July week because most people are planning something around that week that you can catch your breath and be with family if your schedule permits. Then to a lesser degree, Christmas week, we hope and intend to be in a bowl environment so that's really not totally away but it's a good time to be around the folks you care about for the holidays. Then you try to take a week's vacation with your family at some point in the summer months. That's really about it. That's the real world of intercollegiate athletics."
Where do you see the biggest need for improvement within the athletic department right now?
"There are several areas that we talk about as a leadership team that we're constantly ready to enhance. We've done an exhaustive comprehensive assessment of how we can get better. We've had to make some tough decisions relative to that effort as we move forward in that effort. I think we're just in perpetual pursuit of comprehensive excellence and to arrive at that destination, it takes a lot of people pulling in the same direction and it takes time, it takes resources. You can't arrive at that destination without a meaningful mission and vision and resources. We're constantly evaluation all of those resources in terms of the direction that we set."
Cutting 15-20 jobs in the athletic department?
"It's infinitely hard because when you're affecting good people, these are all very good people, it was about the elimination of positions, not the elimination of people because they are very good people and it is my absolute priority and others in this department to make sure they land on their feet. Many of whom are already moving in that direction. Some of whom have already made decisions about their next employment. But that's very, very tough. Very difficult. Very tough for me personally and very hard for everybody associated with those types of decisions."
Women's athletics not losing its brand or identity during the merger?
"I think there is a lot of unfounded anxiety about that because I know where some of it is coming from, we're combining our website for example because that helps us all. My history in athletic administration would certainty validate that I've always prioritized the growth of women's athletics. Nothing is going to change in that regard. There will be no erosion relative to our focus and priority women's athletics."
Is it harder to do that at UT with how successful the women's program is?
"I just do what I've always done at every place I've ever been. There are people in the NCAA whose jobs are to focus on women's athletics and they know me and they know that that's not lip service. It's just a matter of time until everybody here understands and realizes that."
How did the process of Pat Summitt stepping down go?
"I think, and our intent and certainly my intent, through that transition once Pat made her decision was that total environment be handled with the dignity and the class that she and her career warrant. I'm pleased that it turned out in that fashion, in my opinion. That's the only way that could've and should've been handled and again, because of the effort from a lot of people, I believe that's how it unfolded. It was a nice and emotional day for me and for a lot of people. Not only people who are directly tied to the University of Tennessee, but people throughout the country. It was a very emotional time, but Pat is in a great place. She is very happy and excited about her new role. I'm excited about Holly (Warlick) and the job I think she will do in her new role and Holly is in the process now of hiring staff and getting back up to speed in terms of staff in our women's basketball program. I think all in all, that day went very well. (Head of athletic facilities) Kevin Zurker and certainty (head of event management) David Elliott and (Thompson-Boling Arena) Tim Reese and the people who worked on the presentation in the arena did a fabulous job as well. I thought that looked very classy, as it should have. We wanted to do it on the floor named in Pat's honor, that was the appropriate place to do it. Jimmy Stanton did a great job in his role of the head of our media relations unit. All in all again, speaking just personally, I thought it unfolded the way I had envisioned it and that was with class and dignity."
Holly Warlick taking over for a legend?
"Holly is excited about it. Holly Warlick totally understands the nuances and the level of work ethic and everything that was put into building the nation's finest basketball program. She was a part of that process. Obviously, Pat provided the leadership necessary and the drive and all the many, many qualities and character that she brought to the table, but Holly was a part of it so Holly knows better than anyone what to expect, how the program was built and the tremendous challenge that exists following Pat Summitt. You don't work around many legends. They are very rare. I've been blessed. I've had the opportunity to work with two legends who are now out of coaching: Pat and (former Florida State football coach) Bobby Bowden. Those two people share so many of the same core values and qualities. They genuinely care about people and they viewed themselves as icons like the rest of the nation did. The reason is, and it's the highest compliment that I think can be paid to anyone, they never allowed success to change them. That's what's special about Pat Summitt."
Did you seriously consider anyone but Holly for the job?
"That assessment was going on kind of throughout the season because we had to be ready for the scenario. We didn't know at that time, didn't know when the season ended what Pat's decision would be. But we had to be ready for that particular scenario in the event she did make that decision. There was preparation relative to the thinking in what we'd do and I became absolutely convinced as the season winded down towards its conclusion that Holly Warlick was the right person and had earned the opportunity in that role."
Expectations for the football team this year?
"I'm excited about the upcoming season. I've had a chance to observe some of our spring workouts, some of our spring practices. I've had the opportunity to meet with the new staff and visit with them independent of one another. I know some of them. I certainly know Sal. I worked with Sal three years prior to his transition here. I'm excited about the staff. Now, we lost some good coaches, but I think this group of coaches brings a level of intensity and maturity that is a real positive for our football program. I see a lot of progress and a lot of improvement."
Report that the football had a 2.1 team GPA and 30 players are on academic probation?
"That's from December, actually. We had a bad semester, but my focus is on this semester and by all accounts we're having a very good semester."
Men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and baseball coach Dave Serrano's success during their first seasons at UT?
"We're blessed. We have a lot of really good coaches and certainly those are two of many that I'm blessed and others are blessed to work with. They both inherited significant rebuilding jobs. Once our basketball team bought into what Cuonzo wanted, he wanted defense to be first, he built a level of discipline with them they had to undergo and become accustom to in the months on November and December. Once that buy-in process was completed, I thought Cuonzo Martin did an outstanding job and will continue to do an outstanding job as the leader of our basketball program on the men's side. I think that same can be said of Dave. Dave is very good. Dave also has an outstanding staff. Major rebuilding job, but Dave Serene will unquestionably get our baseball program back to where he and others want to see it."
The recent turbulance that's been with Tennessee athletics the past few years?
"We've had a tough four or five years prior to this year, and again, that's well-documented but that's in the rear-view mirror. I think we're definitely coming out of those problem times and I think the foundations are being built for us to now move in a very positive direction."