(This is the first in a two-part series on Dave Hart as Tennessee’s athletic director)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – When the standings for the Learfield Director’s Cup – which signifies the overall strength of an athletic program – came out after the recent completion of the winter sports, former Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart likely cringed.
No reason to brag there.
When the SEC All-Sports award is announced in May, Tennessee will rank in the bottom half among the men and near the bottom third for men and women combined.
No reason to brag there.
For a school that once dominated the all-sports trophy and competed at a high level in most of its sports, the past five years have bordered on being embarrassing when you consider UT’s athletic budget is about $120 million.
When Hart left in late March after five-and-a-half years as Tennessee’s athletic director, one of his primary regrets was not having more success on the field in all sports.
Under Hart’s watch, UT won three regular-season SEC championships – one in volleyball in 2011 (months after Hart was hired) and two in women’s basketball. Women’s basketball added two more SEC tournament titles.
Out of 19 sports, with almost 100 opportunities to win a regular-season title over five-plus years, the Vols could count the titles on one hand.
“Sure, it bothered me,” Hart, a self-proclaimed competitor, said during an interview on Sports Radio WNML in Knoxville, “because everywhere else I’ve been, we have won a lot of championships.”
Hart is confident that day will come soon at Tennessee.
“I think what we have put in place is a very solid foundation, both financially and facilities-wise,” Hart said.
Hart said he felt an “obligation” to give all of his coaches the resources to win.
That hasn’t always happened.
UT’s golf practice facility is “fantastic” but “they’re in trailers.” For more than six years, UT’s golf coaches and players have used trailers for their offices. No plush clubhouse. No nice lockers. Just trailers.
“If you’re recruiting me to play golf,” Hart said, “and I’m visiting these other schools and they’re in really nice, functional team buildings, and I come here and you’re in a trailer, it speaks in their mind – right or wrong – the level of commitment (to golf).”
Hart said the volleyball team struggled until it got a practice facility, that space for the rowing team is too small and that the tennis facilities are “outdated.”
While he praised Thompson-Boling Arena as “one of the country’s finest (basketball) facilities,” he ripped the locker rooms: “You felt like you were in a time warp in the ’80s and ’90s.”
Hart said he left behind some unfinished business, but he has addressed many of his concerns in his three-year campaign that he is handing off to new athletic director John Currie, who took over amid controversy on April 1.
Hart is proud of a sports science lab UT is building, the expanded weight room for basketball, the combined men’s and women’s halls of fame and the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio, which he called “the nicest of any school in the nation.”
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