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UTC athletic director Rick Hart leaving for SMU
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics have enjoyed great success both on the field and in the classroom over the past six years under Rick Hart.
Now the school is tasked with finding another person to build off it.
Hart is stepping down as athletic director at UTC to take the same position at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A source familiar with the situation said he’ll likely be introduced at a press conference on Monday.
Since Hart was hired in 2006, Chattanooga men’s and women’s programs combined to win 17 regular season championships and 22 tournament titles, which is more than any other school in that period.
But some of Hart’s proudest work came in the classroom.
Several UTC programs were mired in Academic Progress Rate (APR) troubles in his early years, but now ever sport is on an upward trend. Chattanooga was completely penalty-free for a second straight year in the latest APR scores released in June of 2012, and eleven of the school’s 17 programs reported a perfect APR score for the 2010-11 academic year.
In addition, the overall grade point average of UTC student-athletes has increased in seven of the last eight semesters, highlights by a school-record-tying 2.97 GPA in the spring of 2012.
“Rick Hart did two things that stand out in my mind as I consider his career at UTC. Number 1, Rick put “student” first in the words “student-athlete". He wants these young people to succeed in life as well as in sports. So, he invested resources in academic advising, in summer school tuition, and in scholarship help for student-athletes who had finished playing their sport but still wanted to graduate,” UTC Chancellor Dr. Roger Brown said in an email to Channel 3.
“Number 2, Rick put the Athletics on a business footing with a realistic budget, dependable revenues, and always guided by a code of ethics that he calls “comprehensive excellence.” Few AD’s - or leaders in any field - have impressed me as much or have become better personal friends as Rick Hart has.”
Hart, whose father, Dave, is the athletic director at Tennessee, graduated from the University of North Carolina and spent time at both Oklahoma and East Carolina before replacing Steve Sloane at Chattanooga in July of 2006.
His first big major personnel move at UTC came in football, when he announced in late 2007 that head coach Rodney Allison would return for the final year of his contract. Allison’s deal was not renewed a year later after a 1-10 season, and Hart hired alum Russ Huesman to take over the program.
Huesman has gone 17-16 in his first three seasons, which included the Mocs’ first back-to-back winning seasons in nearly two decades. He was also named the SoCon Coach of the Year in 2009.
When UTC wrestling coach Chris Bono stepped down in 2009, Hart tapped another alum in Heath Eslinger to take the job. The Mat Mocs won another SoCon regular season title in 2010 and won their sixth Socon Tournament championship in the last seven years in 2011.
Hart helped keep the department on solid footing financially, an aspect of the job that’s always a challenge at mid-major schools. He’s also overseen the construction and upgrades of several facilities, including the recently-built Brenda Lawson Student-Athlete Success Center, and was part of the group developing a master 5-10 year master plan for other campus facilities.