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UT Athletics In Hot Water Now That Summitt Has Backed Ex-Employee’s Lawsuit

Around here we cover football and men’s basketball.  We only get into non-revenue sports when something very, very big happens.  Last week we told you that former Tennessee Lady Vol PR person Debby Jennings had filed suit against the school, claiming discrimination in her firing.  She also put Pat Summitt — sources who’ve talked with the ex-coach say she has “good days and bad days” in her battle with early-onset dementia — in the spotlight, forcing her to back a friend (Jennings) or back the school she loved and program she built.

Summitt has now joined in Jennings’ fight.

On Rocky Top, this will create a “men versus women” fight that will rage far beyond any courtroom Jennings’ suit reaches.  This could ultimately be a major blow to the tenure of AD Dave Hart who was hired last year.

The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that Jennings’ lawsuit against UT has been amended in reaction to the school refuting Jennings’ initial claim that Summitt had been told she would not return as coach next season.  A Vol spokesperson said last week: “That statement is absolutely not true.  It was Pat’s idea to be head coach emeritus.”  At the time of the announcement, Summitt, too, said that it was her decision to step aside.  She’s said that several times since.

Well, a sworn affadavit from Summitt has now been added to the suit that corrobarates the suit’s claim.  That affadavit states:

 

“On March 14, 2012, I had [a] meeting with [Tennessee athletic director] Dave Hart. The meeting took place prior to our team traveling to Chicago for the NCAA tournament. During this one-on-one meeting, Dave Hart indicated to me that I would not be coaching the Lady Vol Basketball team in the next school year (2012-13) and he planned to name Holly Warlick as the head coach. Dave Hart told me I would still have an office in Thompson-Boling Arena and my title could be Head Coach Emeritus. This was very surprising to me and very hurtful as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my family, doctors, colleagues and friends and not to be told this by Mr. Hart. I felt this was wrong.”

 

Summitt also said: “Prior to Debby Jennings’ termination,  I was not consulted by Dave hart, the UT Athletics Director.  But had I been consulted I would have requested that he reconsider termination, and try another alternative, such as disciplinary action, if he felt that was necessary.”

Also hurting Hart is Summitt’s claim that he spoke to her about doing away with the Lady Vols’ logo and branding all Tennessee teams with the “Power T” logo worn on the Volunteers’ football helmets.  When that story hit the press, Hart denied ever having such a notion.  Summitt: “I was angered when he came out in an interview with the media in May 2012 and denied that he ever intended to do away with the Lady Vol logo.”  (From a business perspective, Hart’s decision to nuke an extra logo and all the extra apparel that featured it would cut off an extra revenue stream.  If he did think about dumping the Lady Vols’ logo, he was willing to give up some cash in merchandise sales by doing so.)

So here’s where things stand:

 

1.  It’s going to be hard for Hart to survive this.  Really.  Summitt is a living legend in the Volunteer State and many people feel she deserved the right to go out in her own way.  Last season, there were times when her assistants had to steer her towards the opposing coach for the traditional postgame handshake — extremely sad, by the way — but if that’s how she wanted things to end, it should have been her call.

2.  Now that Summitt has publicly annihilated Hart, will she keep her $350,000 per year “emeritus” job and her office at Thompson-Boling Arena?  Good luck to the person who fires Summitt altogether.

3.  Summitt — or some would say Hart — has now annihilated the Tennessee women’s basketball program, too.  Good luck recruiting in this mess.  By supporting Jennings, Summitt has further put her longtime friend and aide Warlick in a bind.  (Of course, we don’t know the relationship between Summitt and Warlick at the moment.  Who knows if Summitt felt then or might feel now that Warlick might have played some role in her departure?  That’s a question for another day.)

4.  Will Tennessee fight fire with fire?  Those close to the program and those close to Summitt say that she simply is not herself at all times anymore.  In court, Hart and UT could certainly call witnesses to suggest that Hart was trying to spare Summitt a sad ending to her career.  Why else force her out only to replace her with her top assistant?  But if Hart and the school choose to go that route and air dirty laundry, they’ll be viewed as embarrassing a legendary figure.

5.  Horribly, the question must be asked: Does Summitt really know what she’s saying at this point?  After all, she did state publicly that she was not forced out.  Now, months later, she’s aiding a lawsuit against the University of Tennessee claiming that she was indeed forced out.

6.  Finally, UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek could catch hell for this as well.  After all, Hart was his hire and this — allegedly — went down on his watch.

 

This one’s going to get very ugly, very fast for Tennessee.  Considering the end of the Phillip Fulmer era, the brief Lane Kiffin era, the hire of Derek Dooley, the end of the Bruce Pearl era, the end of the Mike Hamilton era and now this… maybe it’s time for the school to just shut down athletics altogether before they shoot themselves in the foot once more.  And all this time I thought Barney Fife was in Mayberry, not Knoxville.

Summitt has come to Jennings’ defense and gutted her school and her old program in the process.  Hart — allegedly — arrived in Knoxville and immediately forced the most popular person in the state of Tennessee out of her job.

Lose, lose.

 

UPDATE – We’ve been catching some flak in the ol’ email inbox from Tennessee fans for not stating loudly enough in this piece that Jennings was wrong to drag her ill friend Summitt into this mess.  But that point was actually the main takeaway from the piece we wrote last week regarding Jennings’ lawsuit.  If you read that piece, you’ll see that the first paragraph today picks up right where that one left off.  And to my knowledge, we were the only folks to call Jennings into question for placing Summitt in a bind… until today.

 


15 comments
outboard propeller
outboard propeller

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UThartless
UThartless

Hart  should have NEVER been hired as Athletic Director.  The man has been fired by Florida State and has proven by his actions that he has no respect for UT.

Hart will NOT survive this. He should resign now before he is once again terminated by his employer.

ice2cold
ice2cold

I don't know why this is a big deal if he told her she needed to go or if she decided to go. Somebody needed to tell her its not oaky to look lifeless for the whole world to see. It was sad watching that spectacle last year and it was time for her to go, legend or not. Phillip Fulmer put just as much time in the program as pat and he was ousted!

southtexasvol
southtexasvol

If you seriously think that this is going to cost Dave Hart his job, you are out of your mind.  I know reading something entirely without jumping to conclusions isn't your strong point here, but I encourage you to read, entirely, Section 7 of the affidavit which CLEARLY states that Summit says Hart DID NOT force her out and Jennings knew nothing of this meeting.  It's right there.  Jennings enjoys seeing her name in the paper, so she has brought Summit into this mess and made a huge deal out of it.  It's a joke is what this is and you stating that maybe "the school should just shut down athletics altogether" is a joke as well. Maybe this site should be shut down altogether. I don't mean to sound harsh towards Pat, but does she really know what she is saying anymore, and remember what she has said previously?  That's a serious question that has to be asked. 

 

I for one, as a Tennessee fan, am thrilled with what Dave Hart has done, injecting some decision-making into the Athletic Department and trying to fix things.

cupboards
cupboards

@josh_ward Isn't Hart the boss? Are we surprised he made the decision? Pat's a legend, but someone has to make tough call.

CWD7
CWD7

@Josh_Ward @MrSEC Why do you re-tweet this half-baked, sensationalist stuff Josh? This has already been debunked.

VolinBama2
VolinBama2

@Josh_Ward Do you really believe Hart forced Summit out? How impaired is memory, I ask in all candor?

bradleygator
bradleygator

Without knowing the substance of the underlying claim, it's hard to know how important Summit's affidavit would be in the litigation.  But if it is important, Tennessee would have no choice but to go after Summit's mental state when she signed that affidavit.  That affidavit was most likely drafted by the attorney and given to Summit to sign.  It's a legitimate question to ask if she understood what she was signing her name to.  Beating up a stricken Pat Summit in court is obviously out of the question, so I would expect this plaintiff to get PAID in a settlement. 

 

Tough situation for Hart.  He saw first-hand how hard it was to drag Bobby Bowden out of the locker room and the damage that did to the program.  He was probably determined to bring this situation to a quick and merciful end, and look at what he steps in. 

UThartless
UThartless

 @ice2cold

 You are flat out wrong with you comparison.  Pat Summit is to UT what Bear Bryant was to Alabama.  She transformed the entire sport of women's basketball.  Whether or not she was actually forced to do anything is not the point, the undisputed fact that he even heavy handedly suggested it in the first place is pathetic.  Furthermore, who is he to tell UT what logos will and will not be used? He will lose his job for this....wait and see.

UThartless
UThartless

 @southtexasvol

 So the fact that he had a scond meeting after he realized the wrath that could follow the first makes it ok? NO

UThartless
UThartless

 @southtexasvol

 Hart will lose his position due to this, plain and simple.  An administrator that has the audacity to enter a University and immediately be disrepectful toward that University's living legend, a rock of stability and pride for UT has no place in a leadership role.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @southtexasvol 

 

I'll just take the "out of your mind" insult and let it be.

 

Athletic directors are almost never popular.  Hart was seen by some -- as silly as this is -- as "an Alabama man" whom Tennessee shouldn't have hired.  He's also dealing with a fanbase that's split over the future of its football coach.  If Derek Dooley doesn't start winning, Hart will lose a chunk of his support regardless of which decision he makes on Dooley.  Now you throw the public uproar of this Summitt stuff into that cauldron... and, yes, I think Hart is in for the fight of his life over the next few months.  And I can tell you that after speaking to one person in Tennessee administration today that they realize what kind of PR nightmare they're in.  They feel that they're buttoned up legally, but in terms of public relations, how can they do anything that puts Summitt in a bad light?

 

As for the affidavit, I'm not talking about the courtroom here, I'm talking about the court of public opinion.  Summitt versus Hart?  That's gonna be a win for Summitt, no matter what.  If Tennessee goes to court with this, many serious questions will be asked about Summitt's mental state.  UT could win the case by sharing some unsavory facts, but the school would lose big in the public view by sharing those same facts about a beloved figure.  The school would be seen as being cruel toward a legendary figure.

 

And, yes, I was obviously joking about shutting down the program.  I was simply listing all of the many issues Tennessee has had to deal with in the past five or six years.  I was not seriously campaigning for the shutdown of an athletics program and I'd hoped that would be viewed as hyperbolic.  I assume the majority of people recognized that.

 

As for your question about Summitt... I wrote that above.  Point #5.  

 

I also wrote last week that Jennings had dragged Summitt into a mess at a time when she doesn't need to be worrying about such things.

 

Thanks for reading the site,

John

UThartless
UThartless

 @bradleygator

 How intelligent is the AD that reasons it to be a good idea to ram his head up against Bobby Bowden or Pat Summit? He wasn't making "tough decisions", to the contrary he was making decisions with an inflated ego and lack or respect.

CWD7
CWD7

@Josh_Ward Pat's second mtg w/ Hart .. Jennings failed to mention in affidavit. Looks like DJ money grab; willing to exploit Pat.

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