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Laura Herron of UTC

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Southern Methodist University athletic departments began new chapters Monday.

Ninety minutes after Rick Hart was introduced as SMU's new athletic director at an afternoon news conference in Dallas, UTC chancellor Roger Brown announced that Laura Herron, a senior associate AD and senior woman administrator, will serve as the his school's interim AD while Brown leads a search for Hart's successor.

The 40-year-old Hart left UTC after six years and in a phone interview with the Times Free Press said that doing so wasn't easy.

"It's been an emotional week," he said. "That had as much to do with leaving a place and leaving people that we cherish as it does the excitement of moving ahead."

Hart leaves UTC in better financial and academic shape than he found it -- "Rick Hart has left us in great shape," Herron said -- and now faces a new set of challenges in an SMU athletic department that will be in Conference USA for one more year before moving to the Big East.

UTC's proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year was $10,471,687. SMU's isn't made public but is several times that size. That's one change Hart will have to face. Another is going from dealing with coaches who make about $150,000 a year to big-name guys such as new basketball coach Larry Brown and football coach June Jones with seven-figure salaries.

Hart dealt with big budgets and big-time coaches during his seven years at Oklahoma before taking the UTC job.

"I think it's a little overstated in terms of the vast differences between institutions or conferences or levels within the NCAA," he said. "Being athletics director is a very complex job. Being involved with an athletics program on a college campus is a very complex situation, so you're going to have adversity, no matter where you are.

"Scope and scale may differ and what you're dealing with may differ, but you can't expect to just go through life with no bumps in the road."

UTC football coach Russ Huesman, whom Hart hired in December 2008, said being in charge of a bigger athletic department or being the boss of someone like Larry Brown won't be a problem for Hart.

"He got in front of staff meetings and you knew who the boss was," Huesman said. "And that's what I liked about him. He knew how to treat people the right way, but he also knew he was the boss.

"Rick's a smart guy; he'll figure it out."

Chancellor Brown, who is very close to Hart, concurred.

"I think he has nerves of steel," he said. "I will be very surprised if he is intimidated by a name."

Herron said she was not going to pursue the UTC job, that she could best serve UTC by helping during the transition period. Brown said UTC will be asking search firms for bids and that a search committee will be formed.

When asked if he would have any input on the search, such as offering a recommendation for UTC senior associate AD Matt Pope, Hart said he would get involved only if asked to do so.

"If [Brown] invites me to share my thoughts with him on the process or any candidates, then I'd be happy to do so," Hart said.

UTC could have other administrative openings to fill if Hart brings some staff members with him to SMU. Hart said he's hardly had time to get to know the SMU staff but indicated there might be some people in Chattanooga he'd like to hire.

"Where it's appropriate, I'll probably look to bring some people to join me, that I trust and who know me and what I expect and how I operate, and vice versa," he said. "That will be something that I have to talk to [SMU] President [R. Gerald] Turner about in the coming weeks."

Hart will begin working full-time at SMU on Aug. 13, and until then there will be a lot of loose ends to tie up at UTC, a lot of time spent getting acquainted with SMU, finding a home in Dallas and a week of vacation to enjoy -- if he can.

Contact John Frierson at or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at