Dave Hart was contracted by Chancellor Cecil Staton in March to conduct an extensive review of East Carolina’s athletic department and formulate a plan to help revitalize the Pirates both financially and on the field of competition.
He’s also doubled as an interim athletic director responsible for filling the three most important positions on ECU’s staff.
After the events of the past two weeks, it can be safely said that Hart has successfully accomplished both missions.
His hiring of new athletic director Jon Gilbert and football coach Mike Houston — along with the previous addition of basketball coach Joe Dooley — has significantly upgraded the Pirates’ leadership structure and provided the program with some badly needed stability.
More importantly, the $20 million in additional funds he helped bring into the coffers has wiped out the deficit under which ECU has been operating and given the Pirates a chance to operate on a more level playing field with its American Athletic Conference rivals.
Hart originally signed a six-month deal that was extended by an additional three months in September. With the latter agreement having now expired, it would been understandable for Hart to declare victory and triumphantly return to his consulting business in Knoxville satisfied with the knowledge that he left the Pirates better off than he found them.
But apparently the job isn’t done just yet.
The man who got his first big break at ECU as a rookie athletic director three decades ago has decided to stay on for another year to provide operational and strategic guidance as special advisor to the chancellor for athletics.
According to a release announcing his one-year extension through Dec. 15, 2019, Hart’s responsibilities will focus on “athletic department revitalization and development strategies, fundraising, building external relationships and promoting the general well-being of the university and athletics.”
“His insight and evaluation of our athletics program provided us a better understanding of where we stand, and his knowledge of collegiate athletics today helped the search committee bring our new director of athletics Jon Gilbert and, in turn, our new head football coach Mike Houston to campus,” Staton said in the statement. “I look forward to continuing our momentum of progress into – and through – the coming year.”
News of Hart’s latest extension is just one more present under the tree in what has been an especially bountiful holiday season for Pirate Nation.
It would be hard to find anyone with a more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of big-time college athletics, combined with an understanding of his school’s culture and the kind of genuine love Hart has for Greenville and ECU. The fact that he and the recently hired Gilbert have a long-established relationship is also a plus.
In many cases, it might be uncomfortable for the new man in charge to have an older, more accomplished “consultant” around looking over his shoulder.
Gilbert was Hart’s second in command at both Alabama and Tennessee before getting the opportunity to run a program on his own at Southern Miss. The two men are friends who like each other personally and respect each other professionally.
Their partnership and the trust they have in one another promises to create a formidable leadership team.
“I believe ECU is now positioned to move forward in a very positive and unifying direction under the leadership of Jon Gilbert,” Hart said. “Any contribution I can make to this collective effort would be very special to me personally give my very strong feelings about ECU.”
His most valuable assets will likely be in the areas of fundraising and continuing the task of bringing the Pirates’ frustrated fan base back together and back into the seats at both Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and Minges Coliseum.
Considering everything Hart has already accomplished during his first nine months back at ECU, whatever else he does from here will be a welcomed bonus.