KNOXVILLE — The boxes have been unpacked; the office setup is complete.
The assessment meetings have been completed; the leadership team is in place.
Dave Hart has been laying the groundwork during his first three months as Tennessee’s new vice chancellor and athletic director, and now the focus is on beginning to move in the direction in which he wants to take the athletic department.
“It’s important that that direction be a reflection of everybody who’s going to be a part of the staff and not just one person or two people,” Hart said in an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press on Thursday. “I think [the first three months] have been productive.”
One of Hart’s first priorities was completing his closest group of administrators. That leadership team includes senior associate athletic director for administration David Blackburn and senior associate athletic director for external operations Chris Fuller, both of whom remained through the transition following Mike Hamilton’s resignation. Hart brought Jon Gilbert and Mike Ward with him from Alabama, where Hart was the executive athletic director for three years before his hire at UT.
“As I’ve told that group of administrators,” he said, “we might tweak it, we might add a person here as the months or years go by, but we have the beginnings of a executive staff, the primary leadership. That is the team that will build, with an appropriate input from others, what that order chart will look like.
“We had our first opportunity to sit for a day and a half last Thursday and Friday in an in-town retreat just to get away from telephones and interruptions and so on to where we could begin to formulate where we’re going to go.”
With three relatively new coaches in the three main men’s sports, Hart’s focus, he said, was maximizing his administration’s support to those programs and others. Football coach Derek Dooley, basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and baseball coach Dave Serrano all face rebuilding projects. However that administrative support comes, such as financially or in more facility upgrades, Hart stressed the importance of providing the resources necessary to help those programs succeed.
UT also is in the process of combining its men’s and women’s athletic departments. Hart will oversee the unified athletic department beginning officially in July of next year, with women’s athletic director Joan Cronan taking a role as a senior adviser to him and chancellor Jimmy Cheek. Before Hart could truly begin to focus on that endeavor, however, he had to familiarize himself with his new surroundings.
That resulted in individual meetings, which lasted an hour each on average, with “right at” 60 staff members, including the head coaches for UT’s 20 varsity sports.
“I think the first priority was to get engaged in an assessment window, which we had,” Hart said. “That was a significant investment of time that was well worth every second of the time, because it helped me not only get to know people and vice versa, but I tried to use a standard template of talking points and did use that template for each member of the staff.
“It gave them an opportunity for some input into what our strengths and weaknesses are and helped me set a direction for the program. That assessment window has passed, and now we’re trying to develop that direction ... and begin now to move more aggressively toward a direction we want to take for our program.”
Hart said the assessments unfolded as he expected and he was pleased with the results. Now it’s about moving forward, from the individual sports to the big picture of the athletic department. For Hart, it’s about “the pursuit of comprehensive excellence” with a mandate of compliance and the pursuit of academics.
“The goals haven’t changed,” he said. “We have a lot of challenges, but that means we have a lot of opportunities. That’s how we’re addressing it.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...