The University of Tennessee settled arguably the most high-profile lawsuit in its history two days ago. The suit, which accused UT of breaking numerous Title IX rules, centered around the school’s sports teams and since the resolution of the case, athletic director Dave Hart hasn’t said a word.
In February, he gave a highly-publicized press conference directly addressing the issue but he hasn’t provided as much as a single comment now that UT has paid to make the suit go away.
Some critics may find his silence concerning. Some may not. But, this is nothing new. Hart is already a controversial figure and he is simply adding on to that perception by staying in the shadows in the wake of the recent legal settlement.
Since taking over in 2011 in the middle of one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of Tennessee athletics, Hart’s tenure has fluctuated between successes in pulling UT out of a dark time and failures in hiring choices and administrative decisions.
On one hand, Tennessee’s football program has recently emerged from the rock-bottom depths of the Derek Dooley era and is on the precipice of what could be its best season in a decade.
On the other hand, the public view of UT athletics has suffered greatly due to continuous attacks from the plaintiffs of the aforementioned lawsuit and news outlets that are desperate for clicks.
When evaluating Dave Hart’s time at Tennessee, seemingly, the question you have to ask yourself is this: Do you value wins or do you value a clean public perception?
With Hart, it appears that it’s nearly impossible to have both. There was a Sweet 16 run with Cuonzo Martin followed by the Donnie Tyndall scandal. There’s been vast improvement in football that can be juxtaposed against the destruction of the women’s athletic department and the subsequent reputation-damaging lawsuits that came as a result.
Many people want Hart gone after analyzing his tenure thus far while others think the job he’s done pulling UT out of the dark ages is more than enough to give him job security. Although, that may just be par for the course in big-time college athletics.
Being an athletic director at a major university is a position that is simply built for failure. When coaches lose or act up, it’s the athletic director’s fault. When controversies arise, it’s the athletic director’s fault. When anything happens that is not winning at the highest level in every major sport, it’s the athletic director’s fault. This is the unfortunate nature of the position but, it’s hard to think that Hart was not well aware of this when he agreed to take over at UT.
So, where is Dave Hart? Why is he conspicuously absent in speaking about the end of the Title IX lawsuit and, more importantly, where does he stand with fans and his fellow administrators after this latest debacle? These are questions that need to be answered in the coming weeks and months now that his most consequential hire, football coach Butch Jones, is staring down the barrel of a career-defining season. Hart’s tenure is coming to a head and it’s high time for a performance review.
Don’t misunderstand, this is not a column calling for Hart to be fired, but someone needs to start talking about what he’s done in five years at UT, because, if the recent past is any indication, Hart himself doesn’t want to.