UNIVERSITY PARK — The introduction of Rick Hart as SMU's new athletic director fills a job that has been vacant since Steve Orisini was fired two months ago.
Hart's hiring comes one year before SMU leaves Conference USA and moves to the Big East.
"It's a tremendous opportunity," Hart said. "You only get to do this once, so it's exciting."
Hart took time to meet a few members of SMU's football team. Head coach June Jones said he likes the rapport and the people skills that Hart brings to the campus.
"He's stepping into a big shoe here," Jones said. "We've got great things going on. The hiring of Larry Brown is exciting, and getting to the Big East, so it's a nice time to be stepping into that seat."
In the past, Hart's strength has been in marketing and ticket sales at North Carolina and Oklahoma. Hart got credit for more than doubling football attendance at his last job as athletic director at UT Chattanooga, and now he's got seats to fill at SMU.
The Mustangs averaged just over 22,000 fans per game last year. That means each home game had 10,000 empty seats.
"We don't have all the good ideas," Hart says. "No one of us is as smart as all of us, so we're got to really reach out and ask the community what they want. We have to communicate that message throughout Dallas."
"There is just every reason for people to check us out again," said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. "Certainly in times past we've had great crowds, and we just have to be able to sell people on the fact that a collegiate experience is different in kind, and certainly the quality of the experience can be great as compared to a pro experience."
Hart is certainly no stranger to college athletics. His father is the current AD at the University of Tennessee. His grandfather was the commissioner of the Southern Conference back in the late 80s and early 90s.
It’s almost like he was born to do a job like this.
"If you could be born to do a job, I guess I'm as close as I can get to that," Hart said.
SMU hopes his background will pay dividends.