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AD Hart makes gains at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Rick Hart is steadily working his way through his checklist, moving closer to making his vision a reality.
Two years ago Hart took over as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director. He was hired on May 23, 2006, and started nearly two months later. In that span Hart, the son of a former AD and the grandson of a former AD and Southern Conference commissioner, has made progress shaping the athletic department to suit that vision.
“I’m pleased overall,” said Hart, who spent seven years at Oklahoma before coming to UTC. “I’m pleased with the overall progress we’ve made as a department. We talk about comprehensive excellence, and that’s the vision for our department. And when we talk about that, we talk about academics, athletics and community. … I sense that we’re progressing and achieving and working toward improving in all of those areas every day. And if we keep doing that, eventually we’ll achieve that vision.”
Not all the work that Hart has done in his first two years has been visible to the public eye. Balancing the athletic department budget without extra institutional support, which hadn’t been done since 2001, doesn’t make for big headlines or photo opportunities, but it was vital to the long-term health and prosperity of the department.
UTC Chancellor Roger Brown acknowledged the fiscal accomplishment but said it was just a piece of Hart’s silent success.
“I would say the balanced budget is really, really important and right at the top,” Brown said. “I would also say that he instantly had his staff implement a vision and core values. I think the importance of that is it gives people in the organization pride, it gives them a set of principles to live by and it raises group morale.
“(The pride) is more there now than it was before, and it’s something that can constantly be minded. In all honestly, I think that’s an even greater achievement than balancing the budget.”
The bottom line, Brown said, is that “from top to bottom, the department is headed in the right direction.”
On the field, court and mat, the Mocs are thriving. In the past two years UTC men’s and women’s teams have won 14 SoCon championships. During the 2007-08 academic year, UTC women’s teams won five conference championships — basketball and softball won regular-season and tournament titles and cross country won the SoCon meet — and captured the Germann Cup, which goes to the top women’s program in the SoCon based on how teams finish in conference play.
The UTC men finished third in the Commissioner’s Cup standings, highlighted by the wrestling and golf teams, which were SoCon champions and ranked among the top 20 teams in the country.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished on the playing surfaces. We have a broad-based program, and that’s what we want,” Hart said.
Hart also is seeking and seeing broad excellence in the classroom. That improved performance, especially by the football and wrestling teams, has been reflected in UTC’s scores in the NCAA’s Annual Progress Rate.
The football and wrestling teams, previously penalized for poor scores, raised their year-to-year APR more than 100 points during 2006-07 and didn’t receive any new contemporaneous penalties. Those two programs did receive historical penalties based on their four-year APR scores, which resulted in the loss of nearly a scholarship for wrestling and more than six scholarships and the loss of two hours a week of practice time for football.
“I know we’ve performed well in the classroom, and I’ve seen evidence of our commitment to the academic mission of the institution,” Hart said. “I’m very pleased with that — whether that means instilling that in every one of our athletes and letting them know that’s an expectation.”
Perhaps Hart’s most decisive action in the past two years was his decision to not make a change at the top of the football program. During the final week of the 2007 season, with UTC at 2-8 and headed toward the fourth losing season in coach Rodney Allison’s five years with the Mocs, Hart announced that Allison would be allowed to return for the final year of his contract.
It wasn’t a popular decision among many UTC supporters, but Hart stuck by it and continues to stand by Allison, who has a record of 16-40 in his five seasons. Allison also stands strongly by Hart, with whom he said he has a very good relationship.
“I trust him and what he tells you is what it is, and that’s all you can ask for,” Allison said. “You don’t always agree and get what you want, but you know where you stand with him.
“For me to stay here with this contract situation and for him to keep me here with this contract situation, there had to be some kind of trust between us. And I trust him.”
Hart is a third generation athletic director, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, David Sr., who was also the SoCon commissioner from 1987-91, and his father, David Jr., who last December ended a 12-year run as the AD at Florida State. Even with all that knowledge in the family, the first-time boss said he’s still learning plenty on the job.
“I hope I learn from every experience, whether it’s a success or failure,” he said, “and I apply that to the way we do things moving forward.”
Hart makes gains at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
By John Frierson, The Chattanooga Times Free Press