KNOXVILLE -- As excited as Dave Hart was went he went to sleep after a long day Monday, he'll have even more excitement and energy when he wakes up this morning.
Even that might pale in comparison to how excited the entire University of Tennessee is to have its new vice chancellor and athletic director after a search that took nearly three months.
UT hired the 62-year-old Hart, the Alabama executive athletic director and father of UT-Chattanooga AD Rick Hart, to replace Mike Hamilton, who resigned in June, and run a soon-to-be unified athletic department as UT moves into the future.
"We've taken our time to make sure we got the right person," said UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek, who said in June he wanted to have a hire made by the start of football season. "We were looking for someone who was an experienced athletic director from a major university with outstanding athletic programs. We've looked long and hard and taken our time to make sure that we got the right person."
Before Hart, an Alabama alumnus who played basketball for the Crimson Tide, took his post in Tuscaloosa in August 2008, he was the athletic director at Florida State (1995-2007) and East Carolina (1987-95). The Seminoles won the 1999 football national championship, and the Tide won it in 2009.
"I am absolutely totally committed to the University of Tennessee," Hart said. "I wanted to say that early because I didn't want you all to be injured tripping over one another to ask the Alabama question. I wanted to go ahead and get that on the table."
UT will pay Hart a base salary of $575,000, plus an additional $150,000 in compensation and a $50,000 each August of the six-year memorandum of understanding. The school made public moves for Georgia Tech's Dan Radakovich and LSUs Joe Alleva, and at one point the search appeared to be on hold until after football season with interim athletic director Joan Cronan in command.
But with Hart in the fold, UT now can move out of the turmoil that has lingered over its athletic department since 2008. The Volunteers' football program is still picking itself up after Phillip Fulmer was fired and Lane Kiffin bailed on the program after a year, the school had to fire successful and popular basketball coach Bruce Pearl in March after he lied to NCAA investigators and the baseball program reached the Southeastern Conference cellar in Todd Raleigh's four seasons. The NCAA also has left Knoxville with the resolution of an investigation into the football and basketball programs that lasted more than two years.
"We're on the right path upwards," Cheek said. "[The NCAA] took our penalties, did not impose any additional penalties and commended the institution for what we did to cooperate with them in that whole process. We're very pleased that they did not impose any other penalties, so we've got that history behind us. What we've got to do is look at the future, and I think our future on the academic side and the athletic side is very positive.
"I think having this last piece, the new vice chancellor and director of athletics, is a critical part so that he and his team can focus on being the very best athletic program we can in the country and at the same time the very best academic program we can have in the country."
First-year basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and new baseball coach Dave Serrano attended Hart's introductory news conference. Hart previously had met second-year football coach Derek Dooley.
"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow because I'll get to meet with coaches and staff, and that's what I enjoy," Hart said. "I think you can look down the road five years and be talking about three of the greatest coaches in the country. I think you've got three young people who have all the right things that you need to be successful in terms on their priorities, the way they organize -- they're going to be demanding in a positive way. I think the future can be very, very bright in that regard. That's an exciting element of taking this position."
Florida State vacated 12 football wins, 22 men's and women's basketball wins and a men's track national championship as a result of an academic cheating scandal at Florida that involved 61 student-athletes in 10 sports in 2006 and '07. Cheek said the incident originated on the academic side of the school, and Hart indicated his decision to leave FSU was "unrelated" to the scandal.
Hart wrote in a letter to the NCAA Committee on Infractions in 2009 that he and FSU president T.K. Wetherell "disagreed on some core issues."
Hart has worked with an impressive group of coaches, including Bobby Bowden (football) and Mike Martin (baseball) at Florida State and Alabama's Nick Saban.
"I'm not a micromanager, don't want to be micromanaged. I want to play my role and know what the role is of the athletics department," he said. "I really enjoy building relationships with coaches and creating an open line of communication with coaches. I really enjoyed Nick Saban, and I've said that for three years. When I came back to Alabama, and Mal [Moore, the AD] said, 'I want to spend 15, 20 minutes with Nick,' we about tripled that in that conversation.
"Here's what Nick Saban wants, here's want Derek Dooley wants, here's what Dave Hart wants: excellence all around them from everybody. That's the tone that has to be set."
Hart will have the chance to start setting that tone when he begins meeting in person with all of UT's coaches.
"We're going to work very hard to make him proud of who he has working for him," Serrano said. "It's the final nail in the whole foundation. We've had the basketball change, two years ago we had the football change, a baseball change, and now the athletic director. My hope is all that is done now, let's move forward and get Tennessee athletics back to where it needs to be."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.