A Conversation With Dave Hart
TALLAHASSEE - Inside the cover of his daily planner, outgoing Florida State athletic director Dave Hart has a doctrine taped above his business card that he has followed since the early days of his career. It reads: "Tell me I forget. Show me I remember. Involve me I understand.'' The simple maxim directed Hart during his 13 years as head of FSU's athletic department, a period of growth highlighted by drastic upgrades in the school's athletic facilities, an explosion of financial support from boosters and alumni, and a renewed commitment to Olympic and women's sports. Hart also worked closely with the Atlantic Coast Conference to boost the ACC's profile in the state of Florida, helping Tampa land the 2007 ACC men's basketball tournament and Jacksonville the ACC Football Championship. Since finalizing details of a "separation agreement'' last week with FSU president T.K. Wetherell, Hart has been busy preparing to start a transition phase in his personal and professional lives. He is scheduled to meet with interim athletic director Bill Proctor on Monday and expects his role in the transition period to be completed by the end of November.On Tuesday in his office attached to Doak Campbell Stadium, Hart reflected on his time as FSU's athletic director, a period he tried to make good use of his personal credo. "I didn't achieve anything,'' he said. "We achieved a lot. And there are a lot of people involved in that 'we.' It takes everybody to try to achieve goals that you set. And I think we did achieve a lot of goals.'' What was your plan when you took the job in 1995? "Our vision was to establish a program that could pursue comprehensive excellence in all sports, within the conference and nationally. And certainly, we've come a long way in that respect. It was also to build a master facilities plan that gave our coaches and student-athletes the best chance to compete across the board.'' What was the support like at the beginning? "If any component of that effort is not in unison, the goal will not be accomplished. It took time to get enthusiastic embracing, that we're all going to do this. That was not automatic. That took some time. You're talking about, in many respects, of changing the culture. Only then did we pick up a lot of momentum. That is very, very gratifying.'' Is it fair that regardless of the success of the other sports, the perception of the football program often determines an athletic department's success or failure? "I don't think it's unfair at all. It's fitting, quite honestly. I know people don't like this terminology, but we really are a business. We are a self-supporting entity financially, and the engine to that train is football. Football is the primary window by which people view you. That's just the reality.'' What's your relationship with football coach Bobby Bowden? "One thing about Bobby Bowden, he didn't always agree with what I said or maybe my view ... but at the end of the day when the conversation ended, he moved on in a supportive way. You're talking about a guy - and he never views himself this way - but we know he is an icon. For a person in that position to be as open-minded as he was during my 13 years here, and understand the bigger picture as he did, and move along with decisions that he personally didn't feel great about, says a lot about him as a person.'' What are your thoughts on his future as football coach? "He's being serious [when he says he wants to coach] as long as he's healthy. I know some people might think that's an exaggeration. It's not. That's how he feels. As long as the fire is burning, as long as he feels he can make a contribution, as long as he feels the program is recovering to back where we all want it to be, that he wants to continue to coach. I think he has surrounded himself with an absolutely outstanding staff.'' Can the program return to prominence under his direction? "That's why we went through a very painful time and a lot of changes in personnel and staff, to get the engine fine-tuned and running smoothly again. It's going to take a little bit of time, but I'm absolutely convinced that that will occur. That takes time. It's hard to be patient, but it's a process. We'll get there. This coaching staff is outstanding. They are outstanding recruiters and outstanding coaches. They'll get it where everybody wants it.'' Will another football program ever have an extended period of success like FSU in the late 1980s and 1990s? "Parity is real. It used to be a buzz word that didn't have a lot of substance to it. But now it is. We were privileged enough to live a dynasty. Can we return to the top of the football pyramid? We can and we will. But those days of domination by one team for a period of over 10 years, those days are gone. There will be a time when there are no undefeated teams in college football.'' You've stated several times your goal was to finish your career here, so what's next? "That was our plan. That's not going to happen. That's off the table. You need now to turn your attention to the rest of your life. I don't know what those opportunities will be. I think I need to take some time. It's been a tough road.' Why not wait around until the end of your original contract? "I care so much about the university. It was best for all parties concerned to separate now.'' In many situations like this, people go play golf until their contract runs out. What about you? "That's not me. That's not who I am. As long as I'm in this job, I will do the job that our alumni and fans expect to be done.'' What is next during your time left at FSU? "To try and make that transition as smooth as possible. I'll lay that out so Bill and T.K. can have a very good sense of what that puzzle looks like.''