Legacy and Leadership: An Interview with Dave Hart

February 9th, 2018 | by CollegeAD
Legacy and Leadership: An Interview with Dave Hart
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Dave Hart

“I’ve spent nearly thirty-five years in athletics administration. It’s in my DNA. My father was a coach and then an administrator for many years. He was the athletic director at Louisville and Missouri and ended his career as commissioner of the Southern Conference.”

Dave Hart, Jr. speaks of his father, Dave Hart, Sr., listing his impressive credentials that would ultimately serve as a guide for the younger Hart’s career. It’s rare to see a father and son combine to achieve so much, especially in the same field, but Dave Hart, Jr. has his own credentials.

Dave Hart

Dave Hart, Jr.

Hart is perhaps the only man to lead, not one, not two, but three different athletic programs who regularly rank in the top-20 in revenue. He was honored with the National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics highest award, the James Corbett Award and in 2000 he was named the NACDA Athletics Director of the Year for the Southeast Region. He’s the recipient of the Robert R. Neyland Award for lifetime achievement, and during his time at Florida State Athletics Directors’ Award for advancing the quality and progress of the athletics program and its student-athletes.

Being raised by an athletic director and having more than 35 years of his own skin in the business had provided Hart with a seasoned perspective by the time he officially retired from The University of Tennessee last year. So, what insights can he share with us?

“[Intercollegiate athletics administration] is a great profession but I think the stress level, visibility level, and expectations have increased.”

That short statement is what brings us to where we are today. In Hart’s opinion, a lifetime of experience in intercollegiate athletics can still provide value to thousands who sit where he once did. It can also provide him with a new passion project.

“I wanted to focus on where my passion lies and that is leadership development, enhancement, and executive coaching. I think while [leadership development] is very commonplace in the corporate sector, it’s really not very common yet in athletics. I think there is a real need there as this profession continues to get more complex and more challenging. People need the coaching to make a difference in how effective they are as an executive leader and how effective they are developing staff and in enhancing performance.”

While leadership development has always been a passion, this new path is also one that chose him. Hart spent more than three decades earning the trust and confidence of his peers. He’d advised hundreds in non-official capacities over the years. It was only natural for that trend to continue into his retirement from athletics administration.

“[University] presidents reached out to me to talk about athletics and how I view athletics through the total university structure. I know that there are leaders out there on the campuses who want to get better and want to learn about the intricacies of the profession. They want to learn about how you build that relationship between the chancellor, the athletics director, and the head coach.”

So, if there is a secret to becoming a great leader in college athletics, what is it?

“You have to know first and foremost what is the culture you desire and how do you get to that destination. It has a lot to do with hiring really good people. You know you’ve got to surround yourself with high-quality people.”

During our conversation with Hart, “hiring really good people” became a constant refrain. Staffing and internal development have always been a focal point of intercollegiate athletics, but as revenue balloons in the Power Five, with some expecting more than 100% growth over the next decade, those “good people” will be in much higher demand.

College athletic departments are growing. They are becoming more intricate, which as Hart points out is mind-boggling considering the business side of sports has always come with added pressures.

“It’s funny. I have some friends who are Fortune 500 CEO’s and they marvel at the complexity of intercollegiate athletics and running a program because of the stakeholders. I’ve had more than one of those people tell me that they’ve never seen that many stakeholders. And those [stakeholders] expect interaction. Rightfully so. They expect to be kept up to speed on what’s going on. They expect immediate feedback and you have to be sensitive and attend to those stakeholders.”

Just as in the sports athletic directors oversee, preparation and personnel are the keys to victory. As Hart reiterates, you need “the ability to anticipate some of these changes and then surrounding yourself with really good people. Companies, organizations, athletics departments, you name it, the difference between one that is average and one that is exceptional is the people.”

Athletics Legacy PartnersAll this has led the founding of Athletics Legacy Partners, Hart’s new business with a dual focus. “It’s a combination of preparing administrators for that duty and,” just as importantly, Hart emphasizes, “building student-athlete centered athletic departments where decisions revolve around those 17-22-year-olds and what you’re doing to help them grow.”

A lifetime in college athletics provides some excellent insight, but most importantly, it provides valuable perspective on the future of this industry.

“I’ve seen the good the bad and the ugly. I’ve seen most everything that you can imagine during that 35-year tenure. When you look at the changes that are occurring and have occurred, I can’t ever remember a time when there was more complexity in our profession than today. When you look at the financial challenges, sometimes I wonder if it’s even sustainable long term. It will be for some people who have great resources.”

It’s a haunting thought from a man who multiple times over his career had access to those kinds of resources.

The revenue race, a growing number of stakeholders and even social media are working to make the job of a college sports administrator more difficult than ever. Luckily, people like Dave Hart are willing to share their knowledge, experiences, and most importantly, their values with those who are still working to cement their own legacies.

In his eyes, Dave Hart, Jr. is just fulfilling a career-long commitment, one that was established by his father before him. “To finish my career and my commitment to athletics and young people, and to the professionals who have dedicated their priorities to helping these young people grow and mature.”

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