July 31, 2007
TALLAHASSEE The end of a tumultuous four-year relationship between Florida State athletic director Dave Hart and university president T.K. Wetherell is in sight.
With approximately 18 months remaining on Hart's contract, Wetherell fired off a short and to-the-point registered letter this spring, indicating that the AD's deal will not be renewed when it expires on Jan. 27, 2009.
In the letter, dated May 29, Wetherell wrote:
"As we move forward this year, I would like to share with you important information so that you may plan ahead. In an effort to provide you as much notice as possible, this is to advise you in writing that your employment agreement dated January, 27, 1999 will not be extended.
"While we look forward to continued successes and progress with the Athletics Department at Florida State University during this period and beyond, in an abundance of fairness, I wanted to provide you this notice for your own planning purposes."
Hart released a statement through the sports information office indicating that he was "surprised" by the letter, but added that he plans to "fulfill the terms of my obligations which I committed to contractually more than eight years ago under then President Sandy D'Alemberte when my contract was last extended."
In actuality, no one within the Florida State athletic department is surprised over the reality of Hart's now-scheduled departure.
Hart and Wetherell are polar opposites when it comes to personality and management style.
Hart, the son of a major college athletic director and conference commissioner, prefers a measured approach, and he directs his department with a style not unlike a traditional corporate CEO. Some of his critics suggest that he often comes off as aloof. A career politician, Wetherell's management style is more spontaneous and favors Teddy Roosevelt's "Big Stick" policy.
The two have been at odds over various issues since Wetherell came on board in 2003. Shortly after taking the post, Wetherell commissioned an independent audit of the athletic department. In conclusion, that audit said that Hart's department operated in a culture of isolation, separate from the rest of the university.
It was hardly a professionally damning charge for Hart, an accomplished administrator who widely is respected as one of the best in the nation.
Those close to Wetherell insist that the contempt the president holds for Hart is rooted in Hart's contract, which pays him $500,000 annually and includes a $300,000 one-time bonus for fulfilling his deal. At one point, Hart's contract sat prominently on Wetherell's desk, providing a constant reminder.
Few people believe Hart will be around beyond the end of the 2007 calendar year, but sources familiar with the situation say he will be compensated fully for his contracted services in Tallahassee, which began in 1995.
There is little argument about Hart's effectiveness both within the school and nationally during a tenure that is second in length only to Wake Forest's Ron Wellman in the ACC.
One of Hart's first steps was initiating a comprehensive facilities plan, which has led to more than $100 million in new and renovated facilities, bringing the school up to speed.
Hart also focused on building a comprehensive athletic program, which has shown considerable improvement along the way, culminating with a school-best 15th-place finish in the 2006 Directors Cup standings. He also has been responsible for hiring 14 of the school's 17 current head coaches. Only the men's basketball and volleyball programs have failed to reach the NCAA postseason over the past three years.
As a fund-raiser, Hart joined Seminole Boosters Inc. in spearheading the school's first capital campaign, helping raise $75 million for facilities and scholarship endowments. Often overlooked, he also has managed to keep the FSU athletic department operating in the black throughout his tenure, something only a minute percentage of major college programs can claim.
At the league level, Hart was the driving force behind expansion, which brought Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the ACC. He's also served the conference on several national committees, while chairing the ACC's football and basketball committees, and he was instrumental in bringing the conference basketball tournament to the Sunshine State for the first time in 2007.
WETHERELL'S IMPRINT EVERYWHERE
In his only public statement since word of Wetherell's letter mysteriously became public, Hart said he had hoped to complete his athletic administration career at the school. It's clear that will not happen.
Wetherell has declined to comment on the letter and Hart's future.
A number of ACC athletic directors, declining to go on the record at the ACC Kickoff event, were clearly in Hart's camp, lauding him for his work at FSU and his visionary contributions to the league as well as nationally.
While there has been a constant under-current of strife between the two key parties for years, their relationship deteriorated significantly over the last year. Wetherell, a former FSU wide receiver whose position coach was Bobby Bowden, is aligned strongly with college football's all-time wins leader.
Bowden, in fact, offered a rare "no comment" at the Kickoff when asked about the Hart-Wetherell situation. It's quite possible that he is still upset with Hart over Jeff Bowden's resignation last fall, a controversial development that was brokered among the offensive coordinator, Hart and Seminole Boosters, without the elder Bowden's knowledge.
Furthermore, Wetherell likes to have a hand in FSU's athletic department operation. That became more evident than ever last fall, when he usurped Hart's authority in the hiring of the department's financial head. Hart also put up a four-year fight to keep two key administrators on board, despite Wetherell's insistence that they be replaced. Life Skills director Pam Overton and top assistant athletic director Charlie Carr were forced to tender their resignations, effective Oct. 1.
With Hart's power base eroding, it's difficult to envision him remaining through the length of his deal. Wetherell has nearly unanimous support from his Board of Trustees and Seminole Boosters to see the changes through.
Whether Wetherell's heavy-handedness will affect FSU's ability to attract a successor of Hart's caliber and clout remains to be seen. It's quite possible that the way the Hart ouster was handled will limit the pool of qualified candidates. So may Wetherell's desire to have a hand in the running of the athletic department, which undoubtedly will include significant if not sole influence on hiring Bowden's successor.
Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett, a long-time Hart ally on FSU and ACC matters, believes the Seminoles will have a hard time replacing Hart.
"It's a great university and has a great athletic program, but (Hart's ouster) will make some of the best athletic directors in the country leery," Catlett said. "Sometimes there are times for change. This clearly isn't one. You can't do it any better than Florida State's doing it (under Hart)."
STAFF MUST ADDRESS MORE THAN CHEMISTRY
CORAL GABLES Miami football coach Randy Shannon is saying and doing all of the right things to build team chemistry. The UM alum is putting his own stamp on the program by pulling bold antics such as taking the names off the back of the team's jerseys in the hope that it will help to lift the Hurricanes back to being a perennial power.
But motivational ploys can take a team only so far, and there was plenty of work to be done when fall camp opened in August, because the Hurricanes were filled with numerous question marks on the roster.
Since the departure of Ken Dorsey after the 2002 season, the Hurricanes haven't had the caliber of quarterback UM had grown accustomed to over the previous two decades. Part of that can be blamed on an often-mediocre offensive line, which has provided marginal protection at best during the past four years. Then there's the lack of depth and experience at the receiver spot.
But the offense isn't the only unit with huge concerns entering the 2007 season. The team must identify a new leader in the linebacker unit, only one productive tackle returns from last year's defense, and almost every aspect of the special teams is a mystery.
If Shannon and his staff can successfully address some of those concerns before the season opener against Marshall, the Hurricanes might have a shot at their first ACC title since joining the conference. The talent is there, but can a new coaching staff really be expected to pull it all together instantaneously? It'll be a tall order.
The best hope of resolving UM's quarterback issues is to let Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman split the repetitions during preseason camp, hoping that one will separate himself from the other. (That never happened in the spring.) If the neck-and-neck trend continues in August, expect UM to play both early in the season, at least until one proves he's clearly better on game day.
As for the offensive line, UM needs senior Derrick Morse to settle into the center spot (a position he hasn't played before) and for senior Andrew Bain to enter fall camp with his weight in check.
Bain, who hovers around 330 pounds, is the team's strongest player, but his production and playing time have been limited because of his limited endurance. Also, if newcomers Orlando Franklin and Harland Gunn aren't able to contribute instantly at guard, UM won't have many options past retread Chris Rutledge.
Franklin, a 6-7, 320-pounder with long arms, is a particularly intriguing prospect. Originally from Jamaica, he moved to Florida from Canada as a high school junior. He signed with Miami in 2006, but transcript complications prevented him from enrolling last year. On one hand, he's older and more physically mature than most freshmen. On the other hand, he's likely to be a bit rusty, after not playing football at any level last fall.
As for receiver, the return of senior Darnell Jenkins, who received a medical redshirt because of a knee injury that forced him to miss most of last season, should help to ease the learning curve of the numerous newcomers. But the Hurricanes desperately need an infusion of speed and athleticism from players such as junior college transfer Kayne Farquharson, Leonard Hankerson and Jermaine McKenzie to make that unit respectable again.
On defense, UM is hopeful that junior tackle Antonio Dixon used the summer to improve his conditioning to the point where he can play at least 25 snaps per game at a high level. Dixon, listed at 6-3 and 331 pounds, is one of the roster's most promising youngsters, but he's approaching a crossroads with his on-going weight issue.
If he doesn't get himself to a manageable weight by the end of August, don't be surprised if the coaches move on and start investing in Josh Holmes. A redshirt freshman, Holmes is a bit undersized at 6-2 and 276 pounds, but he had a very productive spring. However, teaming him alongside projected tackle starter Teraz McCray might be problematic, because neither possesses the bulk UM has used to up front in the past, and that might apply even more pressure to the linebacker corp.
UM already is occupying uncertain territory with that unit, largely because of Jon Beason's early departure to the NFL. In addition, every linebacker who remains has some shortcoming.
Senior Glenn Cook, the most experienced linebacker, is undersized. Tavares Gooden, the most athletic of the group, has battled injury problems for the past three years. Darryl Sharpton (recovering from offseason shoulder surgery) and Colin McCarthy are the unit's most promising youngsters, but each might still be a bit green.
As for special teams, the Hurricanes were mostly abysmal last year, in the team's first post-Devin Hester season. The hope is that one or more of the exciting freshmen McKenzie, running back Graig Cooper, or cornerbacks Doug Wiggins and Demarcus VanDyke can reinsert some sizzle in the return game. Cooper and Wiggins enrolled early and went through spring practice.
A new placekicker and punter also must be identified, and Shannon's hoping that Matt Bosher and Daren Daly can rebound from disappointing spring showings and provide consistency in that aspect of the game.
BASKETBALL: GUARDED OPTIMISM
Even though the Miami basketball team lost two starting guards from last year's squad, it's very plausible that the backcourt will improve next season.
Departed senior Anthony Harris was probably last year's most erratic player. And while Denis Clemente, who was kicked off the team for conduct detrimental to the team, had his game peaking at the point of his departure, he was far from irreplaceable.
UM might even be able to make the backcourt transition for coach Frank Haith a seamless one, at least based on the play of Lance Hurdle and Eddie Rios in local summer-league games.
Hurdle, from the California junior college ranks, was the star of the summer league, which is well-attended by most of south Florida's local college players. He routinely put up 30-point games for the league's best team, proving that he might be yet another hidden gem (see All-ACC guard Jack McClinton, a transfer from Siena, for one recent example) unearthed by Haith and his staff.
Hurdle showed off great range on his three-point shot, and a knack for penetrating to the basket with ease. While his ball-handling was steady, Hurdle didn't exhibit much of a point guard's mentality.
In all likelihood, then, McClinton, UM's leading scorer last season as a sophomore, will start the 2007-08 campaign as the Hurricanes' No. 1 point guard, returning to the position he played as a freshman at Siena.
Rios' showing in summer-league games was a bit up and down, which indicated that the learning curve from high school to the ACC might be a bit steep, but he did show off better-than-decent range from long distance, and he had a tendency to draw fouls and finish. While he'll be called on to contribute immediately, Rios probably will need a season or two before he can carry the burden of running the team's offense full-time.
Haith is optimistic that a backcourt of McClinton and Hurdle will mirror the guard-oriented style of play UM possessed with Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite in 2005-06. And it's possible that the backcourt's bench will be stronger than it was then, because of Rios' upside and that of sophomore wing guard James Dews, who was having a productive summer before he injured his neck.