SMU hires Rick Hart as new athletic director
DALLAS (AP) -- For new SMU athletic director Rick Hart, athletic administration has been a way of life.
Hart, a third-generation administrator in his family, was introduced Monday to oversee SMU's transition from Conference USA into the Big East Conference and become the new boss for big-name coaches Larry Brown and June Jones.
"I know a lot of great things have happened here lately and we have some momentum," Hart said. "It's a tremendous opportunity. You only get to do this once. ... I sense from the community that there's a willingness to support this program and eagerness to support this program at levels that have been unprecedented."
Hart will take over at SMU after serving as AD the past six years at Chattanooga. He went there after seven years at Oklahoma, where he was senior associate athletic director before his departure. He also worked in athletic administration at North Carolina, his alma mater, and East Carolina while serving with the U.S. Olympic committee.
SMU President Gerald Turner said the first person recommended to him was Hart, whose father, Dave, is the AD at Tennessee and whose late grandfather was a commissioner of the Southern Conference. Hart was the final choice after an initial list of 30 candidates was cut down to eight finalists.
"We were looking for someone who had experience in fundraising, marketing and ticketing. Oklahoma people couldn't say enough about how he organized things there in a very significant way," Turner said. "The other is whether or not he can provide leadership. Changing is going to be a part of what we're doing obviously, moving into the Big East, some adaptions to make, and you never know what other opportunities there are."
The hiring came two months after SMU fired athletic director Steve Orsini, who had led the program since 2006 and had a contract through May 2015.
Only four weeks before Orsini's departure, he hired Hall of Fame basketball coach Brown, who returned to college coaching for the first time since winning the national championship at Kansas in 1988. Jones, who attended Hart's introduction, has led the Mustangs to three consecutive bowl appearances, including a win over Pittsburgh in January for his 100th career victory.
SMU hadn't been to a bowl game in 25 years before 2009, Jones' second season when the Mustangs went 7-5 and then beat Nevada 45-10 in the Hawaii Bowl. The last postgame game before that had been before SMU was the only team ever given the NCAA's so-called death penalty, and had its program shut down for two seasons, 1987 and 1988.
"I'm excited for the class I have coming in. That excited me, we're only two or three weeks away from getting on the field," Jones said. `That's what kind of gets me going. ... (Hart) seems like a real good guy, and I'm looking forward to working with him."
Brown poked his head in through a door in the back of the room, but left before the news conference was over without talking to reporters.
Hart spent time with Jones and Brown when he was on campus last week before accepting the job.
"Good guys, guys that care about SMU, guys that care about students. So when you have those elements in place, you're going to be OK," Hart said. "I think we'll work well together. I look forward to working with both of them."
Hart is scheduled to begin working full-time at SMU on Aug. 13. In the four weeks until then, he will make the transition from Chattanooga and take a previously scheduled vacation with his wife and two young children.
Before embarking on any major changes at SMU, Hart plans to use his first 90-100 days on the job to make assessments while learning more about the school, the staff and the community. Those are the kind of things he has been around his entire life.
"If you could be born to do a job, I guess I feel like I'm as close as I can get to that," Hart said. "It really wasn't until my junior year in college that I really settled on a career in athletic administration. Not even realizing it was a career choice, it was just a way of life, and dawned on me late."