If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, consider this a good sign. Though it comes as no real surprise, Dave Hart has been hired as Athletic Director at The University of Tennessee and will be officially introduced later this evening. Per the Knoxville News Sentinel:
Dave Hart, the University of Alabama's executive director of athletics, has accepted Tennessee's offer Monday to become the school's new vice chancellor of athletics.
The 62-year-old Hart, considered by many as the No. 2 to Crimson Tide athletic director Mal Moore, has been at Alabama since 2008. He spent the bulk of his career as the athletic director at Florida State (1995-2007).
This is an intriguing hire based upon the impact that it could have on both programs, and the inherent uncertainty involved here. Additionally, it does create a void in Tuscaloosa that Alabama must now fill.
Tennessee has been an absolute trainwreck for the better part of a decade, and Mike Hamilton was almost undoubtedly the most incompetent athletic director in the country. My take from the outset was that UT would botch this hire (they've botched everything else the past decade, why not this too?), though obviously they have steered clear of the ultimate mistake of hiring Phil Fulmer, who lobbied heavily for the job. Facially speaking, at least, by hiring away a member of arguably the best football program in the nation, this is a significant addition for the Vols. Having said that, though, this one is a complicated story lacking the certainty present on a scratch-of-the-surface analysis.
Hart came to Alabama in 2008 after spending thirteen years at Florida State. At the time, he had been told by FSU president T.K. Wetherell that his contract would not be renewed after more than ten Seminole sports programs, including football and men's basketball, received scholarship sanctions and other NCAA-imposed penalties in the wake of an academic cheating scandal that had infected nearly the entirely athletic department. His subsequent hiring at Alabama was questioned and criticized by many.
In title, Hart was the assistant AD, with Mal Moore as the athletic director, but as is often the case titles can be highly misleading. Moore has long since given up most control over day-to-day operations, and is now mainly a public figurehead for the athletic department whose main focus is on fundraising. As a result, Hart has effectively been the AD at Alabama for the past three years, even though he did not hold that title.
Accordingly, given his actual responsibilities, it's strange that Hart would take the job. Had Alabama wanted to retain his services, they would have matched any salary offer made by the Vols, and again he will not have any additional responsibilities in Knoxville. Based on that, why would a UA graduate and former 'Bama basketball player leave an athletic department at a historic zenith in Tuscaloosa for a hated rival in the proverbial dumps and clearly in need of a major rebuild? It's hard to think of many reasons as to why a person in that position would make such a move.
This is all speculation on my part, but I'm somewhat inclined to believe that Hart is aware that 'Bama plans to go in a different direction in the near future. Mal Moore recently received a contract extension, but clearly his tenure in Tuscaloosa is in its final hours, and when Moore officially goes someone else will have to be elevated to the title of athletic director. Presumably that person was Hart, but with him leaving Tuscaloosa for Knoxville, it's not hard to fathom that Hart knew that Alabama was planning on going with someone else when Moore calls it a career. If nothing else, that would explain what is otherwise a major head-scratcher.
Can he resurrect Tennessee? Perhaps so, perhaps not. The overall decline of the FSU football program and the academic cheating scandal are major black marks on his resume. The UA football team had a great deal of success during his tenure at the Capstone, though clearly most of the responsibility for that goes to Nick Saban. Either way, Hart figures to have a tough job in Knoxville. The men's basketball program is recovering from the Bruce Pearl fiasco, the Pat Summit era is coming to an end due to health issues, and the football program is still in the proverbial tank and is arguably being controlled by a Shula-esque head coach. If Hart can reverse fortunes in Knoxville, he'll deserve every penny he gets from Tennessee. Few athletic directors in the country will have more difficult jobs than he will have.
Regardless of the specifics surrounding Hart's departure, for Alabama the time to go in a new direction is now, and theoretically UA could either hire another "assistant" AD to hold the reins until Moore steps aside, or we could bring in someone and give him keys to the store immediately and have Moore take an early retirement. Clearly the smart money is on the former, not the latter, but anything could happen, I suppose. Expect some names to start being mentioned in the near future.
For the UA football program, the impact of Hart's departure looks to be small at most. With Nick Saban exercising almost dictatorial power over the football program, he figures to have heavy input (if not outright selection power) on the next choice as athletic director, and accordingly no candidate will be given the job without his approval. Furthermore, as a practical matter, the football program belongs to Nick Saban, and not Mal Moore or Dave Hart, and as long as Saban remains in Tuscaloosa in his current form, the UA football program looks to remain on atop its lofty perch regardless of who sits in the AD chair.
One way or the other, though, the search for a new athletic director must begin now. Who the choice ends up being is anyone's guess, but if nothing else at least the conditions for conducting such a search are highly encouraging for Alabama. The football program is at a historic high, the men's basketball program is again on solid ground and is clearly rising, facilities are as good as anywhere in the country, fan enthusiasm and financial support are high, the athletic department is in good financial shape, and the athletic department has the unreserved support of the institutional powers of the university. Based on those aforementioned factors, UA ought to have its choice of the cream of the crop when it comes to replacing Dave Hart.