published Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Five years of UTC athletic director Rick Hart

UTC’s AD discusses changes, challenges

Rick Hart  is finishing his fifth year as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director.
Rick Hart is finishing his fifth year as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director.
Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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UTC athletic director Rick Hart

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Timeline for Hart’s five years as UTC’s AD

Rick Hart has had his hands full in the five years since he took over as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director. Here’s some of what’s happened on his watch:

May 23, 2006 — Introduced as UTC’s athletic director, replacing Steve Sloan, after seven years at the University of Oklahoma. Hart didn’t take office until mid-July.

Nov. 14, 2007 — To quell the speculation regarding Rodney Allison’s future as the Mocs’ football coach, Hart announces the Wednesday before the season finale at Appalachian State that Allison will be allowed to return in 2008 and coach the final year of his contract.

Dec. 5, 2007 — UTC breaks ground on the Brenda Lawson Student-Athlete Success Center, which will feature a practice facility and film room for both basketball programs and a top-of-the-line weight room for all Mocs athletes. The $3.2 million facility was completed in January 2009 and has been a big boost for current athletes and in recruiting.

Oct. 18, 2008 — Elon crushes UTC 42-7, dropping the football Mocs to 1-7 and all but guaranteeing that a coaching change will be made. The Mocs are off the following week and speculation is rampant that Hart will announce that Allison won’t be retained.

Oct. 21, 2008 — In his first major personnel decision since joining UTC, Hart announces that Allison will not be retained as coach, though he will finish the season.

Dec. 21, 2008 — The day after Richmond defensive coordinator Russ Huesman helped lead the Spiders to the national championship at Finley Stadium, Hart hires the former Mocs safety to turn around the program at his alma mater.

July 11, 2009 — Hart hires another UTC graduate, Heath Eslinger, as the Mocs’ new wrestling coach. Right away Eslinger begins changing the academic culture within his program and quickly has it out of Academic Progress Rate trouble.

April 29, 2010 — Hart avoids having to find a new women’s basketball coach when Wes Moore decides to leave East Carolina two days after taking the job and returns to the Lady Mocs.

Sept. 23, 2010 — The NCAA puts UTC on probation for two years following excessive secondary violations involving calls and text messages sent to recruits by men’s basketball coach John Shulman and one of his assistants, as well as a former assistant football coach. The NCAA cited UTC for “failure to monitor” the coaches’ communication with recruits.

May 24, 2011 — The latest APR numbers are released and for the first time since the APR was created six years ago the UTC football program is above the NCAA benchmark. The Mocs will play the 2011 season with a full complement of scholarships and practice hours.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart seldom had a dull moment in his first five years on the job. He recently sat down with the Times Free Press to talk about the past, present and future of UTC athletics:

Q: Does it feel like it has been five years?

A: “No. Mostly no. It’s gone really fast.”

Q: Is that because of the constant challenges and demands?

A: “Probably. You just keep one eye on the horizon and you’re just constantly in the mode of what’s next or what can we do better or what’s coming up and here or there. It just goes by fast.”

Q: What have you learned during the past five years? Or compared to two years ago, how much have you developed as an AD?

A: “I’ve learned tons. Hopefully I’m a better leader and co-worker and manager and those kinds of things. I’ve learned a lot — it’s like going back to school in a lot of ways.”

Q: Do you think that because you don’t have the staff of a Georgia or an Oklahoma AD, does that make you more well-rounded in some ways because you have to tackle issues they don’t?

A: “I don’t know. I think you do have to maybe work a little differently, which I don’t think is a bad thing, either. I’m probably not as specialized, and not just me but probably everybody in our department, including coaches. You don’t have the advantage of being specialized, and maybe advantage isn’t the right word. When you’re more specialized, sometimes that means you can be more productive in that one area, but other times it might mean that you’ve missed something along the way.”

Q: Is there anything you’re most proud of during your five years at UTC?

A: “There’s not any one thing. I would say that when I took the job I knew and had a good feeling that it was going to take at least five years until we could probably start to see tangible, visible, outward signs of creating the type of culture and direction and stability that the program needed. That’s proven true — it just takes time.

“I guess I’m probably most proud that I feel like we have established a positive direction in creating some stability and integrity with our systems and the way we operate. I feel like we have a continuous improvement mindset where each and every person is thinking about how to get better [at] not being complacent and pushing outside our comfort zone. That’s hard to do — that’s a hard approach to take — for all of us, myself included.”

Q: I would guess balancing the budget every year amid funding cuts and getting football and some other sports out of a deep hole in terms of the Academic Progress Rate have also been major achievements.

A: “Those are some of those kinds of tangible, outward signs [of success], but I’ll always continue to be more focused on the process, I guess. We’re going to celebrate those results and achievements, but it’s the process, to me, that I’m proud of and that I’ve really worked — and our staff and coaches have worked — to establish.”

Q: Is attendance at men’s basketball games an area where you feel UTC is underachieving a little bit?

A: “I would say there are areas where we’re behind or maybe haven’t figured it out yet. That would be one of them in terms of it’s frustrating not to have been able to crack that nut yet, at least a little bit. Unfortunately, [lower attendance] is a trend that’s occurring nationally in that sport. Now, we want to be the exception to that trend, and we’re working hard to do that.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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