KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart will retire next summer after a tumultuous tenure that included consolidation of the men’s and women’s athletic departments, improvements in facilities and the settlement of a Title IX lawsuit.
Hart’s announcement Thursday comes six weeks after Tennessee reached a $2.48 million settlement in a Title IX lawsuit regarding its handling of assault and sexual assault complaints against athletes. It comes three months after chancellor Jimmy Cheek said he was stepping down to return to teaching.
“As I thought about finishing this job well and how extremely proud I am of what everyone in our department has contributed collectively to get us to where we are today, I decided that this was a good time to set a target to wrap up my career as a Director of Athletics,” the 67-year-old Hart said in a university statement about his retirement on June 30.
He said the school would choose a new chancellor soon, and “this decision will allow that individual to select his or her own person to this leadership role and allow me to lead us through what promises to be a very exciting upcoming year in many respects.”
Hart’s tenure at Tennessee began in September 2011 and featured major increases in fundraising, improvements in academic performance and several lawsuits.
Under Hart’s guidance – and with help from the launch of the SEC Network – Tennessee’s athletic department posted a surplus of $13.1 million in 2014-15 after a deficit of $3.98 million in 2011-12. Tennessee student-athletes overall have posted grade point averages of 3.0 or better for five consecutive semesters.
“Dave has worked with our coaches to make us nationally competitive,” Cheek said in a statement. “He has focused on compliance and doing things the right way in the class room and on the field. His work and determination have put UT sports in a strong position for the future.”
Hart’s notable coaching hires had mixed results. Butch Jones has stabilized the football program and women’s basketball coach Holly Warlick has reached three regional finals in four years since taking over for Pat Summitt, who stepped down in 2012 after winning eight national titles.
But his hire of men’s basketball coach Donnie Tyndall backfired. Tyndall was fired after only one season because of the likelihood the NCAA would determine he had committed major violations during his Southern Mississippi tenure. Hart hired Rick Barnes as Tyndall’s replacement.
Hart’s tenure featured a number of lawsuits.
Eight unidentified women sued Tennessee in February and said the school created a “hostile sexual environment” through a policy of indifference toward assault and sexual assault complaints against athletes.
As part of a settlement reached in July, Tennessee will announce a series of initiatives to improve its Title IX efforts and appoint an independent commission to review the school’s existing programs and make recommendations regarding sexual assault and misconduct. Hart said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that “It only enhanced and increased our collective desire to be a national leader in that regard.”
Tennessee also faced two gender-equity lawsuits.
Former Tennessee associate director of sports medicine Jenny Moshak and two ex-Lady Volunteers strength coaches filed a suit in 2012 that said they received less compensation than employees holding similar positions and performing comparable tasks for men’s teams. The plaintiffs said the discrepancy resulted from their gender or their affiliation with women’s teams. The two sides reached a $750,000 settlement in January, though the costs were over $1 million once attorneys’ fees were included.
Former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings sued the university and Hart while arguing that age and sex discrimination led to her forced retirement from the school where she had worked for 35 years. Jennings and the school reached a $320,000 settlement in October 2014.
Tennessee announced in November 2014 that all its women’s sports teams other than the basketball squad would be called the Volunteers, and the move took effect in July 2015. School officials said the basketball team could keep calling itself the Lady Vols because of the championship legacy established by Summitt.
Angry fans launched a petition drive and rallied outside a Board of Trustees meeting to preserve the Lady Vols nickname for all women’s sports. A state representative announced he would introduce legislation requiring Tennessee to refer to all of its women’s sports teams as the Lady Vols. The legislation was dropped after school officials announced all women’s sports teams other than the basketball squad would wear a commemorative patch honoring the Lady Vols legacy during the 2016-17 season.
Hart arrived at Tennessee in 2011 after serving as executive director of athletics at Alabama for three years. He was Florida State’s athletic director from 1995-2007 and also spent 12 years at East Carolina, including eight as athletic director.
Hart said he plans to remain active after his retirement.
“There will be another challenge out there,” Hart said. “I plan to continue to assist and inspire people in some manner moving forward. Right now, I am excited about what this year has in store for us on Rocky Top.”