KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dave Hart heads into his final days as Tennessee's athletic director confident that the program is in better shape now than when he arrived in the fall of 2011.
"We really have come a long way," Hart said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "You almost have to have been in the building, almost have to have been a part of all that to fully understand what those challenges were, and where we are now. As I've cleaned out my office over the weekend and (have been) going through files, it brings all that back. It's gratifying, honestly."
Hart, who turned 68 on Tuesday, announced in August that he was stepping down . Tennessee announced March 2 that John Currie would be replacing him . Currie, the former Kansas State athletic director, officially replaces Hart on Saturday .
Results on the field don't necessarily indicate Tennessee has shown much improvement under Hart's leadership. Tennessee ranked 22nd in the Directors' Cup all-sports standings in 2010-11 but hasn't finished in the top 30 since.
"That will all fall into place," Hart said. "We've made progress. We've got some really good coaches in our program. All of that will happen in time."
But there are other areas in which Tennessee has made major strides.
Hart helped upgrade Tennessee's facilities while dramatically improving the financial situation of an athletic department that had posted a $3.98 million budget deficit in the 2011-12 financial year. Tennessee also significantly elevated its Academic Progress Rate performance and the grade point average of its student-athletes during Hart's tenure.
One of his biggest objectives upon his arrival was boosting the health of the football program. After posting four straight losing seasons from 2010-13, Tennessee has won bowl games each of the last three years, though it still hasn't won a division title since 2007. Tennessee's average home attendance of 100,968 last season was its highest since 2008.
"We've done a lot of the things we set out to do," Hart said.
His tenure also featured several challenges, ranging from the elimination of the Lady Volunteers nickname and logo for all women's sports other than basketball to the $2.48 million settlement of a Title IX lawsuit filed against the school regarding its handling of assault complaints against athletes.
Hart announced in August that he was stepping down effective June 30. But his contract terms allowed Tennessee to hire a new AD before June 30 and accelerate Hart's retirement as long as he receives 15 days written notice. Hart made his announcement after Tennessee opted against giving him an extension and raise.
Once Tennessee's basketball season ended, Hart says he started thinking more about how close he was to his final day on the job. He says that about 60 student-athletes visited his home Monday and played him a video, gave him a cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to him.
Hart also has been spending some time with his successor. Hart didn't play any role in choosing the next athletic director and says he doesn't know Currie particularly well beyond occasional chats at various meetings of athletic directors across the country. But he added that they've had "multiple conversations" in the four weeks since Currie was hired.
"He's been very gracious each and every time," Hart said. "He knows that I am here to help him in any way possible, in any way he deems that he needs assistance."
Hart would like to stay involved in college athletics in some capacity. After spending the next few months visiting friends and relatives, Hart said he won't get around to planning his next step until at least midway through the summer.
"I don't know what opportunities might be out there," Hart said. "Certainly if something comes to my attention that excites me, then and only then will I begin to have those conversations."