University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Roger Brown and athletic director Rick Hart arrived on campus within a few months of one another in 2006. Now, with Brown's announced retirement and Hart's move to Southern Methodist University, they will be leaving within a year of one another.
Hart's departure - after six years at UTC he will be introduced as the new SMU athletic director today - comes about a month after UTC Chancellor Roger Brown's announcement that he will retire by the end of March.
Before Brown leaves, however, there is much work to be done. He said an interim athletic director will likely be named this week and the search for a new AD will begin quickly. UTC also must hire a provost to replace Phil Oldham, the new President at Tennessee Tech.
"The timing has been less than perfect," Brown said Friday night.
Brown's wife, Dr. Carolyn Thompson, died of cancer in March. Before she got sick, Brown said, they had decided that he would retire in the summer of 2013. That was well before Hart and Oldham left for new opportunities.
"No one knew that all of these dominos were doing to start falling," Brown said.
For the past six years, Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino has dealt regularly with both Brown and Hart.
"I'm sure that the university will look to hire terrific people, but they are losing two outstanding individuals," Iamarino said.
Ideally, Brown said, UTC would have a new chancellor in place before it hires Hart's replacement. However, there might not be time for that.
"I think that the coaching staff and the athletic department staff will be feeling uncertainty, and I want to minimize their discomfort," Brown said. "I do believe that there is urgency on that floor. Having said that, I believe that we cannot be pushed into a quick decision by the timetable."
The timing was right six years ago when Hart was hired to replace Steve Sloan. UTC's athletic department had undergone some financial and academic issues - this was at the start of the Academic Progress Rate penalty phase - and needed someone to turn things around.
With Hart leading the way, UTC found itself on solid financial footing despite budget cuts and the Mocs have been APR penalty free the past two years, with 11 teams earning perfect scores of 1,000 for the 2010-11 academic year.
"We're at a really important point for the university and the athletics department," Brown said. "This hire is critical. I believe we've made really important progress and no one wants to see any of that momentum lost."
Senior associate athletic director Matt Pope has been a part of that progress. Hired as an assistant athletic director in 2001, Pope was a candidate the last time the AD job was open and would appear to be the top in-house possibility.
Brown said he had two or three names in mind for the job and expects the position to generate plenty of interest. Asked if Pope was one of those two or three names, Brown said he wasn't going to get into specifics.
"We're going to look at everybody that is seriously interested and has the qualifications," he said. "Matt Pope and I are very close colleagues and good friends. If he decides he wants to be considered for this position, he is absolutely welcome."
Was than an endorsement?
"I don't make endorsements," Brown said with a laugh.
Brown said he would prefer that his choice for interim AD not be a candidate for the job, which might eliminate Pope as an interim choice. UTC also has an experienced senior associate athletic director in Laura Herron, who also serves as the senior woman administrator.
"I believe it's going to be a very highly sought after position, and I believe that we're going to find out in the next few days ... we're going to start hearing from people that we wouldn't have thought of," Brown said. "And I believe there's going to be a really good fit in there somewhere."
Brown said he didn't think UTC would have a new athletic director in place by the start of football season on Sept. 1. Because of the data gathering involved, he said, "I don't look for this to be a lightning-fast process."