At this point, surely they have installed revolving doors on the offices of all the most visible positions at the University of Tennessee.
On Thursday, Tennessee Athletics Director Dave Hart announced he will retire at the end of the coming school year. In June, UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek announced he would step down this year, as well.
It’s hard to imagine many major universities have gone through so much turnover in their most visible positions as Tennessee has in the past decade.
Counting an interim executive, whoever is chosen to replace Cheek will be the fourth chancellor — the equivalent position to the president at the University of Kentucky — at Tennessee since the 2007-08 school year.
The replacement for Hart will be the third UT AD since 2010.
Hart, 67, was a polarizing figure on Rocky Top and his pending departure will not be lamented by many Tennessee backers. In fact, one UT fan I know sent out an email with a link to the story of Hart’s retirement announcement with a five-word comment.
“There is a God somewhere.”
Many “Vols For Life” never accepted Hart because he was an “Alabama man.” The AD was both a graduate of Bama (1971) and came to UT from a position in the Crimson Tide athletics department.
But Hart also created some of his own difficulty by picking a completely unnecessary fight with women’s sports advocates at UT.
Tennessee long had an unusual arrangement in that it had separate men’s and women’s athletics departments.
Under Hart, those departments were finally merged in 2012, which was likely the correct move from an economic efficiency standpoint.
However, in 2014, Hart ordered every Tennessee women’s team except women’s basketball to drop the “Lady Vols” nickname in favor of the same “Volunteers” moniker used by the UT men’s teams.
On principle, “Lady” nicknames need to go from the sports world.
In workplaces, you don’t have engineers and “lady engineers.” Schools should have one nickname for all their teams.
There are exceptions to every rule, however.
Largely because of Pat Summitt and the unique role her basketball program played in the elevation of women’s sports in the United States, there was a unique pride at Tennessee among many of the school’s women’s athletes and teams in being part of the “Lady Vols” brand.
Hart should have recognized that and not gotten into a conflict he did not have to have. That he didn’t understand the attachment to “Lady Vols” at Tennessee only emphasized his status as an outsider.
Some also “blame” Hart for “forcing out” Summitt as UT head coach. That is wildly unfair.
The iconic Summitt publicly acknowledged before the 2011-12 season she was suffering from early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Summitt struggled on the bench in 2011-12, with assistant Holly Warlick serving as de facto head coach. It should have been clear to all that it was an unworkable situation and, however emotionally wrenching it was, a change had to be made.
Which is what happened, of course.
Both Hart and Cheek’s tenures were roiled by the filing of a federal Title IX lawsuit against Tennessee in February on behalf of eight women. The suit accused UT of creating a “hostile sexual environment” by violating laws in its handling of alleged sexual violence cases, most involving football players.
After reams of bad national publicity, UT settled the suit for $2.48 million — half of which will be paid by the Tennessee athletics department and half by the university proper.
In spite of all the turmoil and turbulence at Tennessee, the Volunteers are thought to be on the verge of a bounce-back football season. UT is favored to win the SEC East and some are picking the Vols to make their first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.
If the football Volunteers live up to their hype and with the latest round of administrative departures, maybe this school year will come to symbolize the dawn of a new era at a university that could sure use one.