Athletic director Dave Hart is about to make a decision that will define his tenure at Tennessee.
In recent years, the phrase "You've got to win the press conference" seems to have guided college athletic directors and professional general managers during the hiring of new coaches.
A new coach who can come in and generate excitement within a fanbase by spouting all the right words and cliches is judged to be almost as valuable as one who can actually lead a team. In our immediate-gratification society, quick pop is every bit as important as long-term success.
After all, we live in an era in which few have the patience to wait for long-term success.
With a relatively short time on the job as the athletic director at the University of Tennessee, Dave Hart is currently faced with the decision that he will always be remembered for no matter how long he holds the position. Since the removal of Derek Dooley as the Volunteers head football coach just prior to the final game of the season against Kentucky, all of Vol Nation has been on edge awaiting news of who the next coach on Rocky Top will be.
And just when everyone is looking to Hart for answers, the AD seems to have taken a vow of silence.
Little has been seen of or heard from Hart since the game against the Wildcats. As a result, all of Knoxville and beyond are providing the answers for him.
The key to Hart's success, however, will not rely entirely on making noise in the near future. After all, Lane Kiffin "won the press conference" when he arrived in Big Orange Country, and that certainly didn't lead to long-term success. While it would be important for ticket sales and other forms of revenue for the new coach to make a good first impression, it is also a necessity for Tennessee to find stability for its floundering football program.
Fans, sports writers and talk show hosts have offered up plenty of suggestions regarding the next coach. Former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden had been at the top of more Christmas wish lists than any other potential candidate among the Volunteer legions, but he disappointed Vol fans when he rejected Tennessee's overtures.
The Super Bowl-winning coach was viewed by many as the man who could bring about the quickest turnaround for a program that has suffered through back-to-back losing seasons without a postseason bowl bid. The former UT graduate assistant has obvious leadership credentials, and with his newly developed television persona on display, he would have likely "won the press conference" as well.
But that was not meant to be.
With Gruden out of the picture, Hart has to land someone who can put the school's football program back on the path to contention in the SEC East on an annual basis. And as history has shown, any team that can compete in either division of the SEC can compete for even bigger titles.
Almost certainly, whatever name is announced by the University of Tennessee will be met with a degree of emotional letdown after the flirtation with such a high-profile candidate. But if that person is able to bring about stability and long-term success, the disappointment of not getting the sexy choice will eventually be forgotten.
However, should the next coach continue the recent string of bad hires on Rocky Top, the backlash will be extreme. The importance of Dave Hart's decision cannot be overstated.
If Hart expects to remain in Knoxville for very long he must do better than his predecessor at hiring a football coach. If the stories are to be believed, former AD Mike Hamilton could have had Brian Kelly but opted for Lane Kiffin instead. Then he could have had Kevin Sumlin but decided on Derek Dooley.
Tennessee can't afford such a blunder if it expects to return to some degree of relevancy in the powerful SEC.
Dave Hart can't afford such a blunder if he expects to remain employed. If his choice for head football coach at the University of Tennessee wins the press conference, that will be great.
But more importantly, he better win some games.