The world of Tennessee athletics is the most visible element of the total university structure, and athletic director Dave Hart is at the helm of it all.
In a previous article, The Daily Beacon published Hart's view for the future of Tennessee athletics.
"We want to pursue comprehensive excellence in every sport we have, men's and women's," Hart said.
This excellence is not focused solely on the competitive arena.
"When I say we want to achieve comprehensive excellence, I'm not just talking about the competitive arena," Hart said. "We want to achieve at a high level everything that we do, not just the competitive arena."
But, the competitive arena remains the most visible. Hart said he would like to see impersonal relationships between fans and the coaches and players they support reconsidered.
"They don't get enough opportunities, and we're trying to create more, where they can see our student athletes as people and as students outside of that competitive arena," Hart said. "We have some outstanding young people in this program."
A better and deeper relationship between fans and athletes begins in the administrative department. Hart said the athletic department has met with the administrative leadership team and student government officers to engage them on how to make a student's experience as a fan more conducive to their lifestyle.
"We have engaged them about what we can do administratively to make acquiring a football ticket better in terms of where you sit and who you sit with," Hart said. "We'll engage the appropriate people on campus, student life and other people because we want to make it easy, not hard, for students to attend our sporting events."
Just as Bruce Pearl once stood on the cafeteria tables in Smokey's, Hart said campus will see coaches like Butch Jones and Cuonzo Martin continuing the tradition.
"I've always enjoyed developing relationships with student leaders and that's something that is important to our administrative staff," Hart said.
Part of progressing the athletic department overall included facilities.
"We've got some excellent facilities here, but we've also got a lot of needs that we're still trying to strategically arrive at all of our goals," Hart said. "I always assess that by looking at where the student athletes go. Where do they walk and where do they train, where do they eat, where do they sleep, where do they get academic support, all that is very important and it's important in the recruiting process."
Hart said this is a continual focus for him and his staff.
"We're always assessing, in those arenas where the student athletes go, to make it a better experience for them," he said.
During this season of reflection, Hart said he has worked closely with chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed working with Dr. Cheek," Hart said. "He's been extraordinarily supportive of our goals and where we want to go. He has played and will continue to play an important role. I've been very impressed that he is an exceptional listener and he absorbs everything.
"He has told me that he doesn't want us to be at a competitive disadvantage athletically."
Hart said that in the future, students can be prepared for an athletic plan and campaign for the future.
"We will build a financial plan obviously, we'll build a facilities plan, we'll probably go into another campaign at some point in time to raise money for our master facilities," Hart said.
"We had a plan and we haven't taken anything off the table, we've simply reordered some of that based on the fact that our reserve is minimal and we've got to build that reserve back," he continued. "Dr. Cheek stepped up in a very big way recently so that we could stabilize financially and returning some athletic-generated revenues that we had transferred to campus. We're making very positive progress toward where we want to go and what we want to do."
Hart said he sees the university playing a key part in progressing the athletic department as a whole, and he is pleased to see a move in the right direction.
"It's a unified collective effort," Hart said. "When you look at those schools who excel at the top of the athletic pyramid, I assure you in each and every case, that's in place. It's always a campus-wide collective effort and not just an athletic department effort."
Student involvement will continue to be a focus going forward. He said requests he has seen from students have not been unreasonable.
"We have an obligation as an administration to engage the students and engage the student leaders to see what their priorities are, get input from them," Hart said.
For now, Hart said he is confident in the staff he has put together. That said, he's not doing anyone favors, Hart said he expects progress in each department.
"I do feel good about our coaching staff. We have some outstanding coaches," Hart said. "I think coaches understand that working a clean program, that's not a request, that's a mandate. Prioritizing academics, that's not a request, that's a mandate.The expectation also is that we do expect reasonable progress within the competitive arena. Coaches inherit programs in all different states. Some of them inherit stable, successful programs, and others have huge rebuilding jobs."
He added, "As coaches in that competitive arena, you have to make progress as well."