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May 11, 2012The old business model simply wouldn't work. Dave Hart recalled how it used to be, how he and iconic football coach Bobby Bowden brandished the Florida State brand like a tent revival.
More than a couple dozen stops. Golf. You name it. Hart and Bowden did it. But while that format no longer can be upheld in this $100 million world of collegiate athletics, Hart still has emphasized barnstorming across Tennessee in his first spring as the University of Tennessee's Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics.
"When I was at Florida State -- let's say my first eight years -- we did 30 of these (annually), and I went on 30 and Bobby (Bowden) went on 30, and then we played golf. So you played golf in the morning and then had lunch and then had a couple of hours to make calls and everything back to the office, then he went and signed autographs for 45 minutes, then we did the banquet," Hart recalled. "Now, that template isn't being used anymore anywhere. This is kind of the newer template - fewer stops to maximize efficiency and time. This is pretty much what they look like now."
Few caravans --- de facto college athletics tent revivals --- look quite like this Tennessee one. Hired on Labor Day 2011 to replace Mike Hamilton, Hart has made it a top priority in his spring to meet as many Vols fans as possible. He will make each of the Big Orange Caravan's seven stops, blending his ability to lend an ear to the fans with his preparation for the annual, ever-important SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., at month's end.
"I thought it was important and, yeah, something I wanted to do. I did," Hart explained. "And I enjoy being around our fans. I enjoy being around our people, particularly in my first year. My wife (Pam) has been going. She had a conflict (in Murfreesboro), but she went to the first two, and she'll go again next week, because she enjoys it, and it's also an opportunity for her to meet people and for people to know her."
Hart's task in his first eight months at Tennessee has been an arduous one; he is merging athletics departments, somewhat controversially paring down a budget, dealing with the transition from the legendary Pat Summitt to Holly Warlick and seeking to get the program's "front porch," Tennessee football, healthy.
"Let me tell you, Dave, you know, it's a new era in Tennessee athletics. I don't know if there's a guy out there that can do the job as well as Dave Hart. And I mean that, because he's had to navigate through a lot of tough issues," said Vols football coach Derek Dooley. "And his experience, his professionalism, his integrity, his leadership has shown at every step. So I think you look at what you feel is a great synergy in our department, a lot of togetherness between the head coaches. And then you also see someone who is student-athlete driven and has experience at winning championships at this level. So he understands the challenges.
"My only wish is that we allow Dave to do his job. That's my only wish. If we, Tennessee, allow Dave to do his job, then our (athletic) department will have success. And if we don't, then he's going to have the same roadblocks everybody has."
As Dooley alluded to, Hart has worked extensively to bring together all of UT's head coaches to steer one vision. Part of that is done through Hart's regular, head-coaches-only meetings.
"I've always done that. I think it's important. We'll meet with our coaches. We'll meet monthly, but we just had our final meeting until August. We don't meet in June and July with all the head coaches, but we meet monthly with all the head coaches," Hart explained. "And our executive staff meets regularly -- every other week -- and then we go on a couple of retreats just to get away from the telephone and plan for that new academic year. And it's true of our senior staff. They meet every other week, the weeks when we (the executive staff) aren't meeting, so the communication flow can be dramatically enhanced. And, again, you need that input, and it's a good way for people to not only get business done and talk about priorities and setting a direction, but it's also good for them just to be in the room together."
Be it through those meetings or his statewide encounters with fans, Hart believes there's a sense of renewal among the Vols' fans.
"I think people are excited about the fall. There's always an excitement level when you get into May and the summer, and people start to have the shakes waiting for football season to officially kick off," Hart said. "But I do, I do think there's a level of enthusiasm and a level of positive energy out there."