The transcript from Dave Hart’s press conference on Thursday announcing the retention of Dave Serrano as UT baseball coach. His comments on other sports and issues are omitted
HART: Obviously today, I want to center this discussion on our baseball program and specifically address the status of our head baseball coach. Dave Serrano will head into his sixth season this coming year as the head baseball coach at the University of Tennessee. I met with Dave before the team departed for Georgia. We spent about an hour and a half together not talking any about the ultimate decision but rather just talking about where we were as a program, where we wanted to go as a program, how the season had unfolded, etc., again, no discussion at all relative to whether Dave would be back for that sixth season, which I just told you, he will be. You will hear from Dave when we are finished with this segment of the media availability.
Very simply stated, I still believe in Dave Serrano. I still think there is hope for us to turn the corner with our baseball program. This struggle was not confined to the Dave Serrano era as you know full well. We have struggled to get baseball where we all want it for many years, about a dozen years. I’m not happy. Dave Serrano is not happy with the results after Year Five, and we had that conversation again this morning. But I’ve observed and I’ve had the opportunity to observe up close and personal as we’ve gone through what was the fifth and final season in Dave’s existing contract. Never once did I see Dave Serrano cut a corner. That deserves some thought on your part because human nature might dictate that is what people would gravitate to. He did not. I never saw our team quit. Those are signs that the hope might be gone, but those signs never reared their heads. We had deficiencies. Many of you are baseball people. You know what they are, we all know what they were. But our team continued to battle right to the end of the season. I told Dave in that hour and a half discussion prior to the team departing for the Georgia series, because he asked me, that making the SEC tournament would be a non-factor in the decision. Making the SEC tournament when 12 of 14 teams go to the tournament is not what we aspire to. It’s not what Dave aspires to. It’s not what the players or our fans aspire to. Our goals are to be in the NCAA regional, to find a path in the regional that would lead us to Omaha. Those are our goals, and we haven’t even approached those goals for many, many years.
I came to the University of Tennessee, and I’m very proud to be in this leadership position, in 2011, so I’ve had a full unobstructed view of the landscape. I was here shortly after Dave was announced as our head baseball coach. While I wasn’t here during that transition period, I think I’ve been well educated to what Dave inherited. There are no two rebuilding jobs that are identical in nature. They just aren’t. You can’t compare them. You can’t compare them sport to sport. How much time is enough time is always a fair question. Is five years enough time? That’s a fair question. But again, you have to assess what your eyes see and what you know is taking place. These are tough decisions to make, but I am fully supportive of Dave Serrano as we do move in to the sixth season. We’ve had honest, candid conversations. We had another one this morning. I’ll let Dave speak to that whenever he feels appropriate and let you ultimately ask questions of me and subsequently of Dave.
But I do know this, and I put a value on this. Believe me, I’m competitive, I promise you, more competitive than anybody in this room. But I also know that you have to stand back and assess the facts. We can’t talk about our priority on academics if it’s not real. Dave Serrano has made that important and he’s done a great job of flipping what was a very tenuous academic environment into a very stable and positive academic environment. Dave Serrano is very good for this community in Dave Hart’s opinion. He has done what you would expect a head coach to do in terms of in this case, helping young men grow into adults. He’s never compromised his own values or how he’s gone about that task. We all know and all coaches know there comes a time when you have to produce in the field of competition. You have to recruit better. You have to coach better. You have to assess better. All of those things are true of any sport or any coach. Based on where we were as a program, are we disappointed after five years? We are. Those things occur at different rates. In my opinion, Butch Jones, Beth Sullivan, they’re ahead of the rebuilding schedule. We have some who are still trying to get there. You just have to assess it based on knowledge and facts and not on public opinion which I respect and understand. Believe me. I do. But this is where we are. And I repeat. I still believe in Dave Serrano.
QUESTION: Are you giving him a two-year extension?
HART: A one-year extension. Fair question for clarification. Dave will head into his sixth year. Now remember this, Dave was into the fifth and final year of his contract as I articulated. I’m not a bit concerned that Dave Serrano is going to panic or do anything different in his sixth year. There were no signs of that this year.
QUESTION: Is there a concern with giving him just one more year, the impact it might have on recruiting?
HART: No, and I’ve answered that question for many, many years. I think that is always oversold. There was a time with the exception of football and basketball coaches every coach had a one-year contract. No, I don’t have that concern, and I think you will hear from Dave that he doesn’t either. In fact, recruiting doesn’t happen in one-year segments. What Dave and his staff have been doing the last two to three years, they know exactly who we’re trying to sign this year. It’s not an instantaneous two-month process, it’s a two to three year progress.
QUESTION: Did the fact that he changed offensive philosophy have an impact on the decision?
HART: IT’s something Dave talked about in our two meetings, certainly. I think anyone in a leadership role is totally self-assessing. You always start by looking in the mirror and then your staff and players and others. He can speak to that. It would be more appropriate for Dave to speak to that. But yes, did we go into that at great length in these discussions? We certainly did.
QUESTION: Is this a new contract or an extension of the new contract?
HART: Dave’s existing contract doesn’t end until June 30, so from there it will pick up for one additional year.
QUESTION: The same terms?
HART: In all probability, absolutely the same terms.
QUESTION: When you examine this and look at the SEC, how different is rebuilding a program in this league and how much did that factor in?
HART: This league is a bear. You can throw any sport you want to into that phrase. If you’re going to compete and do the things you want to do in the Southeastern Conference, it’s far more difficult to do that and get to the finish line than in other conferences. I believe that. There are a lot of good conferences out there, but the level of competitiveness in this league far surpasses anything you’ll find elsewhere. Sure, that’s also a consideration. That’s why I made the statement I did about the SEC tournament and that’s why I gave Dave the response I gave him. It was a non-factor. If there were six teams in the tournament, it would be a little different. But there are 12 teams going. That’s not what he or I want to aspire to. Having said that, I will say this, our team fought their tails off against LSU in the SEC tournament. The decision had already been made in my mind before we ever played that game.
QUESTION: So you made the decision to retain him early this week?
HART: Early this week.
QUESTION: Do you feel like the commitment is here that is needed for baseball to win at this school?
HART: We can be very successful. We don’t have bad facilities by any stretch of the imagination. I think we’re ranked in the middle of that pack. Our facilities are not a hurdle for us to be successful. Any sport we talk about, and I was raised in a coach’s household, and it hasn’t changed in all of those years. Recruit. Get players. Get better players or as good of players as the other person has. In this league, that’s Job One.
QUESTION: Did you discuss staff changes?
HART: I’ve never gone there. Here’s a principle I’ve always operated under from an administrative perspective to a head coach. Those are the coach’s decisions. Now, too many bad decisions in staffing could lead to another head coach being in place. Not saying that to sound dramatic, but I don’t hire and I don’t fire assistant coaches. There are times when a head coach will tell me, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to make a change. Will you sit and talk to me about it?’ And I always qualify it. ‘I’ll sit and talk to you about it, but it’s your decision.’
QUESTION: Does attendance affect your decision to keep a coach or not?
HART: No. Having no hope has the most impact on my decision. Not having total confidence anymore that you can turn the corner or you can do what you want to do would have an impact on a decision on that nature. A team quitting on a coach would have an impact on that decision. Those are the factors that usually rear their heads. At some point, all coaches understand that we’ve got to turn the corner competitively. There’s not a coach that doesn’t understand that.
QUESTION: How much of a role did academics have?
HART: IT played a role. It’s not lip service here iin our program. It’s part of our culture now. Our coaches do a great job in putting a priority on why these young men and women are here in the first place. Sometimes that might sound even to the corny side. It’s not. It’s a very sincere comment. Helping them grow as people. Helping them leave here with a degree. Three years in a row, our total student athlete population has broken their own records in every academic category you can think of. Graduation rates, APR, you name it. That doesn’t happen if the head coach isn’t putting the top priority on that. It just doesn’t. We have, and you’ve heard me say this, We have a great culture in this building now. Coaches don’t walk on egg shells, they know the expectations. We’re performing at a high level relative to our expectations for academic success, for involvement of student athletes in community service, for all of those things. We still have programs who are struggling to get there competitively. We have some that are making great strides. As I say, we have some who are ahead of the rebuilding schedule that they inherited. But we’ll get there. We’ll get there together. We’ll get there as a unit.
QUESTION: How do you judge how committed a team is to its coach?
HART: I think you judge it by the effort that you witness. I think your eyes don’t lie. I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen teams that at the end of the season, it was very obvious. Their heart wasn’t in it anymore. They didn’t want to play anymore. That was not present at all in this instance. Coaches know this as well, you can’t use injuries as an excuse, but they are sometimes a reality. You move up, next man up, that’s what the coach says and what the coach should say. It can change your team a little bit, but everybody deals with that and everybody has to deal with that. That’s where it comes back to recruiting and building depth.