University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chancellor Roger Brown is looking for an athletic director for the second time in six years.
Rick Hart is leaving UTC to fill the same position at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is expected to be introduced there Monday.
"I'm extremely proud of Rick and I'm always happy when anybody on my staff goes out and goes on to have excellent and outstanding careers," Brown said. "But I'm also sad because he's a dear friend and he's such a great part of the Mocs family."
Brown, who announced his retirement last month, hired Hart in May 2006 to a contract worth $155,000 per year plus added compensation up to $15,000 annually based on athletic and academic achievements.
UTC teams' academic and overall athletic performance increased during Hart's six years, and the department steadied financially despite numerous cuts in its budget.
"From a chancellor's point of view, he put it on sound fiscal footing - he's a good business manager," Brown said. "Beyond that, you have to say he has high integrity for his student-athletes, his coaches and staff.
"They know we want to win, but we want to win the right way."
Hart implemented an Academic Performance Rate improvement plan that resulted in 11 of UTC's 17 teams scoring a perfect APR over the most recent time frame.
More than half of UTC's athletes made the athletic director's honor roll in each of the last six semesters, and the athletes' aggregate GPA was 2.97 on a 4.0 scale this past spring, which tied the highest mark.
"You can go down that list of honors and see the Gunner Millers and the Keegan Bells and the women's golf team, who are all setting wonderful benchmarks for all of our programs," Brown said. "I think the athletes look to [Hart] as a role model. He talks about class, grace and sportsmanship and building good lives for themselves."
Hart, whose father is a vice chancellor in charge of athletics at Tennessee and whose grandfather was a Southern Conference commissioner, departs UTC and the SoCon for a Conference USA program set to join the Big East in July 2013.
"It's not every day that you get a guy that's third generation in the business and knows what to do and how to do it," UTC supporter John Murphy said Friday. "Those guys aren't a dime a dozen. He's going to be a tough one to replace, I tell you."
Murphy, a former UTC long snapper who played with Mocs football coach Russ Huesman, and his wife Renee Haugerud in 2009 gave the UTC football program $500,000 - part of $2 million in donations to the university. That half a million went toward renovations at Scrappy Moore Field, which now also bears the name Murphy-Haugerud Football Practice Complex.
SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said Hart always made his voice heard at league meetings.
"Rick came in and right from the start he had everybody's respect," Iamarino said. "He was often the voice of reason when we would get into some deep debates in the AD meetings. I can't say enough for the job he did at [UTC]. He was always a contributor to the things we wanted to do."
Brown said he will name an interim athletic director soon, perhaps in the next week. Brown said he'd prefer that potential full-time candidates not hold the interim title.
He will take longer to find Hart's successor.
"I'm talking to everybody whose opinion I value, and I'll reach out to people I consider knowledgeable," Brown said. "We want to do this right and leave it in great hands. We'll take our time and get it right.
That may include hiring a search firm, or at least getting some outside consultation.
"In athletics today, it's difficult for those in-house people to get out and find candidates and talk to people we might not have thought of," Brown said. "But I haven't crossed that bridge yet."
In Dallas, Hart will take over for Steve Orsini, who was fired four weeks after hiring Larry Brown as the SMU basketball coach. Orsini had been the AD since 2006 and earned $431,686 in base salary for the 2010-11 season, according to USA Today.