Dave Hart on the Best Culture for Today’s Athletic Departments: Podcast #55

Today I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Dave Hart. He served as an administrator in collegiate athletics for over 35 years at several schools, including East Carolina University, Florida State University and the University of Alabama. Most recently, he was the Athletic Director at the University of Tennessee from 2011-2016. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Tim Elmore: During your journey as an administrator in college athletics, what were some of the lessons you learned?

Dave Hart: What I really learned was the most important thing that you can do as an Athletic Director is to focus on people. We really are who we are because of the people around us. When you have good people, everyone is moving in the same direction, everyone is prioritizing the student-athletes first, then the rewards are untold in numbers. The gratification from that is why we do what we do.

Tim Elmore: The lesson I think I’m hearing you talk about here is hiring the culture you want and surrounding yourself with the best people you can. You are only as good as the people around you. As we’ve talked about this before, another one of your greatest lessons is making tough decisions.

Dave Hart: Tough decisions are a part of any leader’s job. But it’s inherent in human nature to be resistant to change. People don’t like change. That’s how organizations and corporations move forward though. You can’t just stand still. No matter what business you do or what industry you are in, leaders move programs forward.

Tim Elmore: In my twenty years working with John Maxwell he often said, “You can certainly change without growing, but you cannot grow without changing.” In many ways, that is what you are saying.


Dave Hart: You’ve got to have the courage to make decisions that maybe will not be popular, but will move the organization forward. We must remember this isn’t about you or me. It’s about the student-athletes. I feel strongly that we have to listen to what they want and their needs. We may not always follow through or agree with them, but it’s something we must do in order to be a student-athlete centered program.

Tim Elmore: I love that. You’ve always talked about a student-athlete centered program and you know that’s totally what I believe in too. What are some of the indicators of a student-athlete centered athletic department?

Dave Hart: I think one indicator is when student athletes have the collective ability to greet people when they are in the building, to introduce themselves, to ask if individuals need assistance—all without prodding. When the student-athletes walk into your office and just want to say “hello” (without an agenda), that’s another indicator. When you see indicators such as these, you know that you are on the right path.

Tim Elmore: That’s good. Now let’s get really practical. At the four institutions where you’ve worked, you were new at one point and you took some initial steps. What would you recommend as initial steps to work toward a student-athlete centered culture?

Dave Hart: I think there are components that you have to prioritize and examine. What is your structure? Does it currently support a student-athlete centered program? Evaluate and assess your efficiencies. Are you as efficient as you can be or should be?

Alignment with the campus is an absolutely critical step. You have to build the alignment you want. That’s not the responsibility of anyone else. That’s the responsibility of you as the Athletic Director. Athletics has never been, never will be the most important thing on campus. But it is clearly the most visible element of the total university structure.

I hope you take the time to listen to the whole conversation. Click below to listen to the full discussion.

Bring Dave Hart out to Speak at Your Athletic Department

(Michael Patrick/News Sentinel)

As a former student-athlete, coach and athletics director, Dave Hart has seen the industry evolve from all three perspectives. He served in a leadership position within the athletics department of four major universities:

  • East Carolina University, Director of Athletics
  • Florida State University, Director of Athletics
  • University of Alabama, Executive Director of Athletics
  • University of Tennessee, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics

Bring Dave Hart out to your campus and learn how you can develop a student-athlete centered culture.

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Dave Hart on the Best Culture for Today's Athletic Departments: Podcast #55