Dave Hart has dealt with his fair share of criticism and scrutiny in his four-plus years as the athletic director at Tennessee. The latest issue facing the athletic department is a federal lawsuit that claims the university created a “hostile sexual environment” and violated Title IX laws in its handling of sexual assault cases involving male athletes, predominantly football players.
Though Tennessee is mired in more trouble, Hart isn’t worried about his job security.
“I don’t (have any concerns),” he said last Thursday. “That’s a fair question as well. I communicate on a very regular basis, as you might imagine, with our chancellor (Jimmy Cheek). I respect him greatly, I think that respect is returned and his knowledge of the hill that we’ve had to climb, he’s respectful.
“He’s right where I am on this topic. We’ve got to do more. We’ve got to do better – everybody on our campus. It’s been a great relationship and a respectful, trusting relationship.”
Tennessee hired Hart from an associate athletic director role at Alabama in 2011 to replace Mike Hamilton, and in April 2013 the university extended his original six-year deal two more years through 2018. Hart previously was athletic director at East Carolina and Florida State. There’s no doubting Tennessee’s athletic department is in a much better situation now in many respects than it was when he took over, but that progress hasn’t come without some bumps along the way.
The switch from Adidas to Nike spawned the branding issue regarding the discontinued use of the Lady Vols logo and name for all of the women’s teams except for the basketball team. That fiasco reached a conclusion earlier this month, when state lawmakers withdrew a bill that would have forced the university to reinstate the nickname for every women’s team as part of an agreement with the school that those teams would wear a commemorative patch on their uniforms starting next school year.
Hart caught heat last year for hiring basketball coach Donnie Tyndall, who lasted one season because of an NCAA investigation into his former program at Southern Mississippi that found Tyndall committed multiple major violations, including academic fraud.
The merging of the separate men’s and women’s athletic departments that was completed under Hart’s watch spawned a pair of gender discrimination lawsuits from former employees that were settled by the university.
I really feel for those who can’t let go. I mean that. I don’t harbor any resentment. I feel for them.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart
Hart was asked Thursday if he felt targeted publicly by some of the disgruntled former employees.
“I told you I would be open and transparent and honest and candid,” he replied. “There are some unhappy people. It doesn’t have anything to do with this that we’re talking about. I want to make that clear. But yeah, we have a handful of former employees who are very unhappy.
“For the local people in here, you know who they are, because they’re sources for you. Not with accurate information, but they’re sources. You can’t worry about that. I go back to what I said: Life’s too short to engage in that. I really feel for those who can’t let go. I mean that. I don’t harbor any resentment. I feel for them.”
In this week’s issue, Sports Illustrated rehashed Hart’s past troubles at Tennessee and Florida State, where an internal investigation found that he and other athletic department officials failed to immediately report a rape allegation involving a football player in 1997 and a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed by a women’s basketball coach was settled in 2003.
The story also mentioned Tim Rogers and Jenny Wright, two former Tennessee employees mentioned throughout the current lawsuit for voicing their concerns about the number of sexual assault cases and alleging that the athletic department interfered with and influenced the university’s handling of those cases.
The lawsuit claims the university “consciously disregarded the general and specific warnings raised” by Wright and Rogers in addition to acting with “deliberate indifference” and “direct interference” in those cases.
Rogers resigned in 2013, calling the university’s failure to address his concerns an “intolerable situation,” and Wright was fired the same month amid accusations she was having inappropriate relations with athletes, though she later was cleared of wrongdoing.
Hart said Thursday he was confident his coaches followed the proper protocols in those cases and that his department “doesn’t interact” in any police or university investigations.
“We don’t deal with it,” he said. “We don’t engage in that. We are not an investigative body, nor do we have any purview in that arena. We don’t deal with it. As I said, we have one liaison both to authorities and the student conduct office.”
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org