Dave Hart's Big Decision
A week has passed since Cuonzo Martin has left the University of Tennessee for greener pastures in the PAC-12. Here's to hoping he finds the respect that he deserved from the University of Tennessee and never seemed to attain.
The former coach of the Volunteers leaves with 63 wins under his belt in a three year period. However, he left behind a tumultuous tenure with the university as well. He never seemed to get the support of the fans, much of which because he was following one of the most electric coaches to ever coach in Knoxville - Bruce Pearl. The 36,000 signature petition that floated around the fans of the school did not seem to help matters either. He leaves for more money and a fresh slate to go to a program that has seen success before, but not as much as they would like recently.
Let's jump forward to today and to a different man though. Dave Hart's tenure at Tennessee has been a bit rocky to start out. In his time here, he has had to fire a head football coach, go through the agony of Jon Gruden rumors, set the foundation for the merging of the men's and women's athletic departments leaving a trail of bodies and careers in his wake, replace a baseball coach, and handle the "retirement" of the most heralded women's basketball coach to ever coach. This seems like a lot in a three year period, that's because it is. All of this done with a Chancellor who seems, let's face it, too involved with his athletic programs. Now, he is forced to hire another coach for one of the two revenue producing sports on campus.
The decision is made tougher due to how the predecessor left. Stability seems a four letter word in the Volunteer state at the moment. Hart attempted to maintain stability with a two year extension and a half million dollar raise for Cuonzo, but the effort may have been too little too late. His raise would have taken him to the eighth highest paid coach in the SEC. This does not seem to jive with his finishes of 4th, 6th, and 4th in the SEC over the last three seasons. This left Dave Hart with a decision to be made and a tough sale to be accomplished.
The fan base wants to win. Bruce Pearl changed the culture of basketball at the University of Tennessee. During the down years of Phillip Fulmer, basketball was winning and brought people closer to a sport that always felt second fiddle. The new basketball frenzy that was never there prior must be fanned and developed, not mopped under the rug as an "up" period. People are normally willing to forgive and forget as long as you win, but now that we are on our seventh hire since 2008 in the two major revenue sports, questions are being asked.
Dave Hart's decision will affect the culture of Tennessee Basketball for years to come. The fire that Bruce Pearl nurtured into existence about basketball is dwindling and this hire will either fan the flames or fully extinguish it. He has already missed on a couple coaches and reports are surfacing that the misses are not entirely his fault, but the truth of the matter is that he must stand with his guy now. The blame is not entirely his either way, but when you look for a casualty for another bad hire, the AD is the first one to blame - although in the minds of many Tennessee fans, a Chancellor may be at fault in this case. However, the AD will always fall on the grenade before a chancellor and this will prove to be no exception.
This decision will affect Hart's future as well as how he is viewed when he is gone. His last football hire seems to be on the right track, but you are always a couple injuries away from having an incredible season turn drastically in the other direction. His baseball hire is showing improvement, but still has plenty of work to do. His handling of the merge of the Women's Athletic Department left some with a bad taste in his mouth, but was necessary for the health of the Athletic Department as a whole. All of this means, that he needs a hire that will show his true abilities. A basketball coach won't change people's perceptions in a city that lives and dies on Saturdays in the fall, but it will always help.