Rick Hart, who joined SMU in July as its 13th director of athletics, is a third-generation athletics administrator. Hart’s father, Dave, is director of athletics at the University of Tennessee, and his late grandfather, Dave Sr., served in a variety of roles within collegiate athletics, including a stint as commissioner of the Southern Conference. Before coming to SMU, Rick Hart served for six years as athletics director at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, overseeing a program that won 17 regular-season and 22 postseason Southern Conference titles. Before that, he spent seven years at the University of Oklahoma Athletics Department. In the following interview, Hart discusses his vision for SMU athletics.
What is your long-term vision for SMU athletics?
What drew me here are assets that you can’t just go out and acquire anywhere – SMU’s reputation and high academic quality, a vibrant city, strong leadership, community involvement and alumni support. So when you look at that, our vision should be to become a premier program in the country. I am making sure that I understand the goals of the institution so I can align the Athletics Department with the vision that President (R. Gerald) Turner and the Board of Trustees have for SMU. We’ve got good people and strong coaches, and our academic reputation is among the top in the country. We must ensure that our athletics program reflects the high standards that the University has for its students. We want to continue to be known as an athletics program that graduates its students, prepares them for life, competes for championships and makes a positive impact on the community.
We’re developing a plan that will better define our mid- and long-range goals and vision, and hope to share a draft with the president around the first of the year. This is an inclusive process, so we’re involving the people closest to the program – student-athletes, coaches and staff – gathering feedback and ideas. I also want to include faculty, staff, administrators, students, donors, ticket-holders, supporters, alumni and former student-athletes so that when we implement this plan, it’s representative of as many groups as possible. The process creates ownership and buy-in because the plan is something that they will have helped to create.
How will SMU’s move to the Big East Conference benefit the athletics program?
The Big East is known as one of the premier conferences in the country – arguably the best basketball conference and certainly among the top football conferences. I think that level of competitiveness will help make us a stronger program and give us a better sense of how SMU is performing nationally and where we need to improve. Some of it also has to do with prestige – to have a national presence, particularly in that Northeast corridor where SMU recruits a lot of students. We want to associate ourselves with institutions that aspire to the same things we aspire to.
What are the critical ingredients that go into building a successful collegiate athletics program?
People are the most important ingredient. You need to have people of integrity who work hard and are servant leaders. Whether it’s administration, faculty, staff, donors, alumni, ticketholders, volunteers or the media, everyone plays a role. People are the main ingredient that will determine success or failure.
To that end, how can alumni get involved in helping the program?
You just said it. The most important thing they can do is get involved. For some people that means being a supporter or a volunteer or just buying a ticket. There’s nothing more meaningful to our student-athletes than to know they’re supported and seeing people in the stands cheering them on as they display their athletic talents.
They could become donors. We have many different opportunities to give, even as little as a dollar a year. It doesn’t matter the amount, but get involved and help support our 398 student-athletes. At the end of the day, it takes resources to implement our plan, be effective and pursue comprehensive excellence.
– Chris Dell ’11