KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart will retire next summer after a tumultuous tenure that included consolidation of the men's and women's athletic departments, improvements in fundraising and facilities and the settlement of a Title IX lawsuit.
Hart's announcement Thursday came six weeks after Tennessee reached a $2.48 million settlement in a Title IX lawsuit regarding its handling of assault and sexual assault complaints against athletes. It comes two months after chancellor Jimmy Cheek said he was stepping down to return to teaching.
The 67-year-old Hart says he once considered remaining athletic director through 2020 but changed his mind in part to allow Cheek's replacement to select a new athletic director. Hart's retirement takes effect June 30, 2017.
''Sometimes you just know when it's time,'' Hart said.
Hart, who has held this position since September 2011, said the Title IX suit didn't prompt his decision.
Under Hart's guidance - and with help from the launch of the SEC Network - Tennessee's athletic department posted a surplus of $13.1 million in 2014-15 after a deficit of $3.98 million in 2011-12. Tennessee student-athletes overall have posted grade point averages of 3.0 or better for five consecutive semesters.
''We're much more stable financially,'' Cheek said. ''We have much better teams in place and coaches in place. We have real optimism and a strong vision for the future, a lot of positive energy over here and we have a lot of excitement in our fan base for all of our programs.''
Hart, who makes about $800,000 per year, will continue to be paid through the remainder of his contract, which expires Sept. 20, 2018.
Hart's coaching hires had mixed results.
Butch Jones has stabilized football and women's basketball coach Holly Warlick has reached three regional finals in four years since taking over for Pat Summitt. Beth Alford-Sullivan has revitalized the track program.
''Everything is about leaving a place better than it was when you came here,'' Jones said. ''I can tell you this. ... I think I speak for every single coach. Dave Hart has made Tennessee athletics much, much better because he was a leader.''
But men's basketball coach Donnie Tyndall was fired after only one season as the NCAA investigated his Southern Mississippi tenure. Hart responded by hiring Rick Barnes, who has over 600 career wins and who said Thursday that ''I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him.''
''He's truly one of the great athletic directors in the last 25 years,'' Barnes said.
Hart faced plenty of adversity during his tenure.
Eight unidentified women sued Tennessee in February and said the school created a ''hostile sexual environment'' through a policy of indifference toward sexual assault complaints against athletes.
Two other lawsuits came after Tennessee completed the consolidation of its athletic department. Tennessee had been one of the last schools to have separate athletic departments for its men's and women's teams.
Former Tennessee associate director of sports medicine Jenny Moshak and two ex-Lady Vols strength coaches said they received less compensation than employees holding similar positions for men's teams. A $750,000 settlement was announced in January, though costs exceeded $1 million once attorneys' fees were included.
A $320,000 settlement was reached with former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings, who said age and sex discrimination led to her forced retirement.
''We've been through some tough times, been through some painful times with the passing of Pat Summitt (this summer), an extraordinarily emotional, painful time,'' Hart said. ''But we've had some really good times. And we've done it together.''
Hart encountered more criticism after Tennessee announced in November 2014 that all its women's teams other than the basketball squad would be called the Volunteers rather than the Lady Vols, a move that took effect in July 2015.
''I hope that the next athletic director appreciates and supports and values the Lady Vols brand for all women's teams at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville,'' said Mollie DeLozier, who led a petition drive to preserve the Lady Vols nickname. ''The decision to remove that brand from all their teams (aside from women's basketball) has been widely seen as a negative. The new athletic director could sure start off on the right foot by restoring the name.''
Hart arrived at Tennessee in September 2011 after being executive director of athletics at Alabama for three years. He was Florida State's athletic director from 1995-2007 and also spent 12 years at East Carolina, including eight as athletic director.
''My work ethic hasn't changed much,'' Hart said. ''My energy level hasn't changed much, and it won't as I go through this final lap of being a director of athletics. It's been a joy.''
This story has been corrected to say Hart's announcement comes two months rather than three months after chancellor Jimmy Cheek said he was stepping down.