Hart has worked since August 2008 at his alma mater Alabama, one of the Volunteers’ top rival programs, where he served as executive director of athletics assisting Alabama athletic director Mal Moore. Previously he spent 12 years as Florida State’s AD.
“I want this to be perfectly clear: I am absolutely and totally committed to the University of Tennessee,” Hart said at a news conference Monday night. “I wanted to say that early because I don’t want you to trip over each other to ask the Alabama question.”
Under a memorandum of understanding, UT will pay Hart $575,000 in his first year of a six-year contract and may qualify for a 3 percent increase of his base salary with each passing year. He will also receive $150,000 annually for media appearances and a $50,000 retention bonus each year.
Tennessee had been looking for a new athletic director since Mike Hamilton resigned in June in the wake of a lengthy NCAA investigation into the men’s basketball and football programs that resulted in a self-imposed two-year probation for the athletic department.
Hart said the NCAA’s final ruling on Tennessee’s case, which was announced Aug. 31, had no bearing on his decision to accept the job.
UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said he and the search committee responsible for hiring Hart sought someone who had experience as an athletic director at a major university.
“We’re on the right path upwards,” Cheek said. “What we’ve got to do is look at our future, and I think our future on the academics side and the athletics side is very positive, and I think having this last piece, the new vice chancellor and director of athletics is a very critical part.”
Hart was East Carolina’s athletic director from 1987 to 1995. His son, Rick Hart, is the athletic director at Chattanooga and his father, Dave Hart Sr., was an athletic director at Missouri and a commissioner of the Southern Conference.
Moore hired Hart three years ago.
“When this opportunity came along I had mixed feelings, just as I do now,” Moore said in a statement. “While I am very proud and pleased for Dave and his wife, Pam, for the opportunity they have been given, I also hate to lose him. He’s a gifted administrator who has done an excellent job for our athletic department and our university. I know I speak for all of us in Alabama athletics in wishing Dave all the best at Tennessee.”
The 62-year-old Hart also has advised the Atlantic Coast Conference and played basketball for the Crimson Tide’s C.M. Newton.
He left Florida State after he was told by the school’s president, T.K. Wetherell, that his contract would not be renewed the following year. His departure coincided with an academic scandal that resulted in the vacating of wins by the Seminoles football program and four years of probation.
Hart said his decision to leave was made before the scandal was uncovered and was instead the result of disagreements with Wetherell.
“The provost at Florida State and I are good friends,” Cheek said, “and his explanation of this was that it was an academic matter affecting students at FSU, and obviously athletes. It was not an athletic matter that influenced academics.”
Hart eventually will be the first director to oversee a combined department of men’s and women’s sports at Tennessee. Since Hamilton resigned as the men’s director, former women’s AD Joan Cronan has been serving as the interim director over both the men’s and women’s departments.
Cronan will continue as women’s AD until June 30 to help with the transition of combining the two departments. After that she will work as a senior adviser to Hart and Cheek for two years.
“I have an ultimate respect for him as a leader and as a person who can tackle things,” Cronan said. “He’s also a very compassionate person, so I have no qualms about him leading our athletics program forward.”