The Dave Hart Show
Today at 2:00pm EST, Tennessee AD Dave Hart took to the microphone. Then with his words, during an introductory statement and followup answers to questions from the media, Mr. Hart made it clear that he is his own man and is in control of the current coaching situation.
The expectations for this press conference were low. A few platitudes, then some generic statements on how UT will be back on top with a new hire. Some of this; some of that. You know: very eloquently saying nothing.
Instead, Dave Hart laid out his thoughts on the biggest moment of his career — hiring the next football coach at Tennessee.
1. Dave Hart did not tell Derek Dooley before Sunday morning that he would be fired. It was widely rumored that Dooley had been notified after the Missouri game and that Dooley held a very emotional meeting with his players to tell them of his imminent departure. Instead, Hart indicated he met with Dooley Sunday morning to tell him the news, and then accompanied Dooley to meet with the team. Hart indicated the meeting was a “tough meeting.” He also added that he was not involved in the hiring of Sal Sunseri, dispelling widely held rumors that Sunseri was Hart’s pick, not Dooley’s.
2. Dave Hart indicated that he would not likely be using a search firm. It is widely known that Hart’s predecessor, Mike Hamilton, relied on search firms for the processes that resulted in the hiring of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. Hart was strong in his view of outside influences for this search. He indicated that he will rely on his many contacts that he has made over his nearly 30 years in athletics administration. And when addressing a question regarding boosters, Hart said that he appreciates people’s opinions because of their passion, adding “but nobody has the level of information that I have.” So much for boosters flying around the country.
3. Dave Hart said that he has no timetable for this hire. He added that it is difficult to do this quickly but emphasized that we are not “behind” in the process. Hart added that a lot of hires of this nature happen in the month of December, as a lot of coaches will be in attendance at the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame meeting in December. [The NFF oversees the support, administration, and operation of the College Football Hall of Fame. The NFF hosts an Annual Awards Dinner in December at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. This year's dinner is scheduled for December 4, 10 days after the Tennessee-Kentucky game.]
4. Dave Hart was specific about the qualifications of the next head coach. He must have integrity (Tennessee has no margin of error because of the recent extension of the ongoing probationary period by the NCAA – additional fallout from the Kiffin ‘era’). He must “know the ropes” of what it takes to be successful in the SEC – he must know how to succeed and have had success. He must have previous head coaching experience. Hart added that the SEC is the ultimate challenge for a head coach in the college game. He said that he will “reach out to a few people of that nature.” From these specific statements, it can easily be interpreted that Hart (1) would not have hired the Derek Dooley of three years ago, and (2) will not be hiring Kirby Smart (widely rumored to be a candidate). It is more difficult from these statements to read the tea leaves about Bobby Petrino (the integrity issue) and Jon Gruden (by head coaching experience, did Dave Hart mean college?). Hart made it clear the importance of this hire, calling it a “critically important hire” in part because football is the face of University of Tennessee athletics. He also indicated that the hire is important because stability, not transition, is needed — the new coach will be the 4th in 6 years (and UT has had 12 presidents since 2000).
5. Dave Hart indicated that money will not be an issue (or as big of an issue as some people might think it will be). Hart said that Tennessee finds itself in a tenuous position, at a crossroads with the athletics program. The facts are that Tennessee has a $1.9 million reserve, a significant disadvantage in that the Vols have to compete against schools in the SEC with $50 million to $100 million in reserve. Having said that, Hart indicated that the Chancellor does not want to see the football program fall behind because of this financial situation (possibly indicating that he has the Chancellor’s support for a ‘big-money hire’). His exact words were:
[t]he Chancellor doesn’t want us to be at a competitive disadvantage of any nature whether it be financial, or academic or in any other arena where we are trying to compete and get back into the top of that pyramid.
But in perhaps a more important statement, Hart said that “academic competitive disadvantages” are being eliminated. He elaborated on this point by saying that these are all historical in nature, and they are “real in nature.” It has been rumored that there has been a rift between the athletic department and the academic faculty over the money being spent on athletics, including facilities, salaries, and buyouts. From Hart’s statements, it sounds like much of that was present before Hart came to Knoxville a little more than a year ago (thus the ‘historical’ reference). So, it sounds to me at least from all this that Hart will eventually get his way to make every effort to get his man.
6. Dave Hart, to no one’s surprise, did not disclose any candidates for the coaching vacancy. Hart said in a very direct manner that he has contacted no one and back-channeled no one, but he has a process. In fact, he said he always has a list (all good AD’s do) and the list is always in flux. Hart even said that he has not begun going through the list. If the last sentence is true — in its literal sense — then all of the rumors concerning negotiations with Gruden are false.
As far as press conferences go that concern head coaching changes, this was as impressive of a performance as I’ve seen. Hart was not only prepared, but it was obvious that he is aware of all of the talk swirling around Knoxville over the last month and more. He addressed many issues without being directly prompted to do so by a specific question. And, he answered asked questions in a very quick and direct manner but added (sometimes lengthy) commentary to flush out underlying issues within those questions.
It was such a reassuring performance that after the press conference, I was reminded of Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s performance in the 1988 Vice Presidential debate with Dan Quayle.
It allowed me to fantasize that I was addressing Mike Hamilton: “Mr. Hamilton, I know Dave Hart. Dave Hart is a friend of mine. Mike, you’re no Dave Hart.”
And if you think that that was a gratuitous, uncalled-for commentary, just look around and breathe in our current situation, and ask yourself, in the words of David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?”
Dave Hart has his “Once in a Lifetime” moment. I’m glad this is not Mike Hamilton’s show. Thank goodness it is not the “same as it ever was.”
A complete transcript of the press conference can be found at the Chattanoogan.com.