KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley was aware of Dave Hart's background from the start.
Through more than eight months of working and interacting for his new boss, Tennessee's football coach admits his relationship with the Volunteers' vice chancellor and athletic director has made an impact.
"Dave has had a real re-energizing effect on me in a positive way," Dooley told the Times Free Press in a late-April interview. "He, of course, has a great background of understanding big-time college athletics. He was the son of a coach, so he gets coaching. He gets the day-to-day problems that come with coaching, and he's just been incredibly supportive of everything we're doing.
"We have a lot of dialogue. We talk at least every week, and he's very much in tune with our issues. My only hope is that we allow Dave to do his job, and that's the only hope I have. If Dave's allowed to do his job, then we're going to have success as a department."
Hart, a former athletic director at East Carolina and Florida State, has been a part of successful athletic departments throughout his administrative career. FSU won Atlantic Coast Conference titles in 10 sports while he was there, and the football program won nine league titles, played in four national title games and won the 1999 BCS championship.
It was more of the same at Alabama, where Hart worked for three years before he was hired at UT.
In his brief time in Knoxville, Hart has overseen the merging of the men's and women's athletic departments, a complex process that is well under way. Though his stated goal is comprehensive excellence in all sports, he's had no reservations about making sure the Vols' football program returns to relevance.
Hart manages many relationships, but the one with his football coach might carry a little more weight.
"I hope what [Dooley] meant by that is what I said earlier, that we have a healthy and a very open line of communication," Hart told the Times Free Press at the Big Orange Caravan stop in Johnson City last week. "It's not a reflection on anything that's happened prior to this because I don't know what happened prior to this, but I've always prioritized building relationships with coaches. To do that and to build that relationship and build that trust, you have to communicate.
"We do that, as I said, on a regular basis, and I've thoroughly enjoyed Derek personally and professionally."
Hart's father, Dave Hart Sr., was a football coach at Pittsburgh who later served as the athletic director at Louisville and Missouri and the commissioner of the Southern Conference. Through his dad, Hart Jr. got a firsthand look at coaching and administration.
"I think we're on the same page [regarding expectations], and I think what I appreciate about Dave is that he also understands the world of coaching," said Dooley, also the son of a successful former football coach and AD. "He understands that [there's] things you can control, and certainly we need to show significant improvement on that. He understands things you can't control that you have to learn to manage day to day.
"We're on the same page, and I'm appreciative of Dave's kind of taking on this role. I think he's going to be great for Tennessee."
Hart acknowledged that UT's football, men's basketball and baseball programs are amid rebuilding work and even extended that to women's basketball with Holly Warlick replacing the legendary Pat Summitt.
"I think [communication's] even more important when coaches are rebuilding," Hart said. "It's easy to be supportive when things are going great, but when the coaches need you the most is when things aren't going great and they're working their tails off to try to turn that corner."
After the football program's first back-to-back losing seasons in a century, Dooley hopes the Vols can turn that corner in his third season. The coach has insisted throughout the offseason that he likes the stability in the roster, and the Vols have more experience and better depth. Seven new assistant coaches have created some new energy.
"I think he's proven that he's not easily deterred," Hart said of Dooley, "because there's been a lot of frustration, some of which was out of his control, i.e. the injuries to key players last year. ... I love his staff, and of course I worked with [defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri] for three years [at Alabama]. Sal's making a difference.
"Sal's been around championship-level ball as a player and as a coach, so he gets it, he understands what it takes and he's imparting that to the team. I think the team is responding very well to that. We've got missing pieces, but you fix that through recruiting and this staff knows how to recruit."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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