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December 14, 2012
On September 15th, 2012 Tennessee set a record for revenue generated for a home football game. Neyland Stadium was rocking like it did every Saturday over a decade earlier. ESPN's Gameday was in town. The Vol nation was a buzz. Campus was packed and ready to explode.
The explosion never occurred. On the field, it was implosion from the moment Trey Burton went 80 yards down the sideline. The 2012 Vols would not recover untimately resulting in replacing Derek Dooley with Butch Jones on Dec. 7.
In life often times things aren't typically what they seem. According to athletics director Dave Hart, that electric atmosphere where all seemed right with his football program and athletic department was a false footing to where things were and have been with the infrastructure of his most important possession, football.
"That's a very good observation and an accurate one," Hart said of people on the outside not seeing or understanding some of the issues. "Just like the football training center. You tour it and you go hey they have the foundation in place, but we don't. That element (building) is fabulous, but it transcends that. Every program that I have ever been associated with that excels and I've been blessed. I have been there. I do know what good looks like. I really do. I have been blessed in that regard. Those programs the support starts at the top and runs all the way down the pyramid. All the way down. And there is not any internal differences. I have said this many times. When football is successful, everyone wins. Everybody on our campus. Everybody in our community and everybody in our state because it's the rallying point. It's not easy to come out of that stadium when someone hands you a loss or you have an embarrassing moment. It's not easy. It makes Monday morning very, very difficult. There's nothing wrong with saying that's accurate. We know our role within the role of the University. It shouldn't be overstated and it's not. We will do it the right way. We will do it within the parameters of the NCAA and the University, but it's important that we get football healthy and I think we have traction in that regard."
Hart feels that traction and improved health lies in impending changes to some academic issues causing an unlevel playing field which include changing the reguirements for transfer credits as well as changes to policy in regards to continuing eligibility. And there's some relief financially and facility commitment from the University in giving athletics the property where Stokley Athletic Center currently sits.
But by no means does Hart feel like his financially depleted department is through the crossroads he so openly spoke of when he fired Dooley last month. And the long time athletic administrator knows there are tough times still in front of him. But he also believes that since he's been here it's the best foundation that his department had found themselves on which offers him hope.
"I feel like we have made a lot of progress. We have taken on a lot of challenges. It's the foundation," Hart said. "I said this when I had only been here a few months. In our football environment, Vince Lombardi could be head coach. If we don't have the foundation in place, he is going to struggle. You heard me say this about Derek. You can't pin it all on the head coach. We have an obligation as an institution and as an athletic administration to make sure the foundation is in place. Because a coach needs to coach. A coach needs to recruit, talk about schemes, talk about staffing. I'm obligated to put the foundation in place. The coach shouldn't be splitting his time between coaching factors and foundation factors. And I have always operated that way. And I feel real good about where we are today."
But is where Hart feels they are now good enough to get through the crossroads and nurse an ill football program back to health.