A VIEW FROM THE TOP: ATHLETIC DIRECTOR DAVE HART SPEAKS ON THE NEED FOR LEADERSHIP (AND ANSWERS A FEW “BURNING QUESTIONS” FROM TENNESSEE FOOTBALL FANS)
At the Knoxville Quarterback Club this past Monday, University of Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart came “to talk about leadership” with the UT football faithful. I was in attendance for his presentation.
In reflecting on the talk, it seems to me that Dave Hart was consciously trying to distance himself from his predecessor, Mike Hamilton, with not only the emphasis on “leadership” but also the concept of “putting the student-athlete first.” Of course, it remains to be seen whether this will actually take place, or is simply a matter of public relations. If true, it could be a welcome change from the previous athletic director, who seemed to be interested first and foremost with wringing every last penny from fans, contributors to the athletic department, and service providers; with his main focii being the bottom line and then the happiness of the wealthiest contributors.
It also struck me that Hart genuinely enjoyed being among the Tennessee fans; and while coming to the Quarterback Club – and speaking and interacting with this segment of the fanbase – might have been an inconvenience, he never let on that it was anything but a pleasure.
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In reading between the lines of some of Dave Hart’s comments, as well as his responses to questions from the audience, I tried to glean what his position on Derek Dooley’s tenure might be. With his comment about how coaches must make progress competitively, but that “circumstances differ”; his comment about coaches being accountable for the performance of their respective staffs, but that it is important to keep open communications with head coaches; and his comments about fiscal prudence – being uncomfortable with little or no financial reserves – my sense is that he is going to give Coach Dooley a sufficient chance to “make progress competitively.”
Between the state of the roster that Derek Dooley has had to deal with (which are unusual circumstances), and the fact that ending Dooley’s employment prior to the end of the original contract period would probably cause a substantial buyout, these facts suggest to me that Dave Hart may be somewhat more tolerant about Dooley than members of the Vol Nation may be; and that “making progress competitively” may not directly equate with the numbers of wins and losses that Coach Dooley registers.
Finally, if Dave Hart truly believes the maxims that he recited from “The Ten Commandments of Leadership” – especially the one about taking years to build something – then I think that our new Athletic Director is committed to taking the long view of our situation with the football team; and this does not involve a philosophy of “WIN NOW.” So assuming that Coach Dooley makes adequate progress next year, I think that he gets through to the end of his original contract. That is my ultimate takeaway from AD Hart’s talk to the Knoxville Quarterback Club.
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Here is a detailed summary of Dave Hart’s prepared comments followed by a summary of the question and answer session.
He began with an overview of what he has done since he became Athletic Director on September 21, 2011, noting that he has done “a lot of assessment” over the last two months, spending 60 hours in one-on-one staff meetings, as well as in group meetings. Hart stated that the assessment period is “about over,” and that the direction phase is next; he used the analogy of a family automobile trip, where you first determine what is your destination, and then determine who will lead you there.
For that destination, Hart stressed that he wants to turn the focus of the UT Athletic Department to more of an emphasis on the student-athlete. Hart noted that there were many things that were good about UT athletics: a rich tradition; a passionate (although not necessarily patient) fan base; and a “great history of people who care” about UT athletics. He added that he wasn’t concerned that Neyland Stadium isn’t full every game; he observed that Tennessee had 85,000 – 102,000 people in the stadium for each game this season, and pointed out that there are very few college football programs that could make such a boast.
Hart mentioned that UT generally has terrific facilities for players and for donors; but he pointed out that when parents of recruits come to a university, they don’t ask to see the sky boxes but want to know, Where will their children eat? Where will they live? Where will they train? Who will take care of them if they are injured? What academic support is available for them? Hart said that one of his goals was to make the services available to UT’s student-athletes as first-class as the playing facilities here.
In returning to his theme of leadership, Hart stated that he tries to live by the adage that “The true mark of a man is reaching out to someone who can do absolutely nothing for you.” He added that a good leader will empower people; will hold them accountable; and will make sure that everyone is “on the same page” with respect to morals and core values of the organization. Hart revealed that he has a poster in his office of what he called “The Ten Commandments of Leadership,” which he read out to the assembled crowd:
(1) People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love and trust them anyway.
(2) If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
(3) If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies. Do good anyway.
(4) The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
(5) Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
(6) The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest ideas. Think big anyway.
(7) People favor underdogs, but follow top dogs. Fight for the underdog anyway.
(8) What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
(9) People really need help, but may attack you if you do help. Help people anyway.
(10) Give the world the best you’ve got, and you may get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
Hart added that “great leaders are like eagles; they don’t flock.”
Dave Hart ended his prepared remarks by noting that he was an English major in college, and that he participated in college athletics (in fact, he played basketball at the University of Alabama for Coach C.M. Newton); he said that the life lessons learned through athletics are important, and that those lessons teach a person how to handle success and failure, how to be a part of a team, and how to handle a role on a team. Because of his experience as a college athlete, Hart feels “committed to give back to student-athletes.”
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After the speech, Hart opened up the floor to questions from the audience. The very first question was, “Do you keep a little black book on coaches?” Hart said that he had “no little black book,” but added that an athletic director never knows when or under what circumstances he might have to choose a new coach. (The implication was that he has a mental list, but nothing on paper.)
Hart was then asked how involved he would be in staff evaluations; Hart responded by observing that when you hire a head coach, you don’t turn around and try to micro-manage, that the head coach is accountable for his staff; but an athletic director should always keep open communications with a head coach.
In response to a question about conference realignment and whether SEC teams would play 8 or 9 games against SEC opponents, Hart said that there had been “no conversations” about playing more than 8 conference games.
One questioner prefaced an inquiry to Hart about continuing the UT-Alabama annual game with the phrase, “Coming from Alabama . . . .” Hart immediately responded, “First, I’m from Knoxville.” Hart said that he certainly wanted that series to continue, but that “the sands are still shifting in regard to conference realignment.”
In response to a question about UT having to cut back or eliminate programs like the University of Maryland was contemplating with 8 of its varsity programs, like track and field, Hart said that he did not want to get to that point. He added that he was accustomed to building financial reserves in an athletic department, and told the story of how a staff member in the UT athletic department told him, after he first was appointed as AD, that UT had a surplus of $14,000 the preceding year; Hart said that, given that the UT Athletic Department had a budget of tens of millions of dollars, having only a surplus of $14,000 made him uncomfortable. He also said that if there is some sort of natural disaster or even a terrorist attack, and games can’t be played, what happens then with the loss of revenue? Continuing on the subject of finances, Hart noted that coaches’ salaries are market driven, and coaches understand that they must make progress competitively; but the exact circumstances about that differ.
One of the last questioners mentioned how the “previous administration” would refer to “the product on the field”; he then asked Hart, How do you keep a “corporate perspective” from interfering with development of a bond among team players? Hart responded by saying, “You have to put the student-athletes first.”