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Episode 038 – SMU Director of Athletics Rick Hart

Posted on Feb 2, 2017 by in Podcast Episode | 0 comments


Rick shares about his college sports roots, strategic planning, finding the best talent and what athletics marketing looks like in 2017 and beyond.


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Introduction and Bio:

Hey everyone and welcome to the All-Star Leader Podcast, where together we learn about leadership from the best and brightest, and keep it fun by connecting it to our passion for sports!

Continuing with our recent lineup of university athletic directors, we are privileged today to be joined by the director of athletics at Southern Methodist University, Rick Hart.

Rick has been around college athletics his entire life, and prior to coming to SMU spent time as the AD at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and on the staff at the University of Oklahoma.

This is Rick Hart. Hey Rick thanks for coming on the show!

Interview Questions:

  1. I mentioned that you grew up around college athletics; tell us about that and what you learned during those years which still informs how you lead today?
    1. Didn’t realize it at the time, but very special experience
    2. Dad was high school coach/teacher early on and mom was teacher; grew up around educators and sports
    3. Went to Dad’s practices, camps, games, etc. and was around the coaches
    4. grandfather was the AD at Louisville and Missouri
    5. Dad went into college athletics at East Carolina, and it continued and shaped him
    6. While in college he figured out that combining sports and education was what he wanted to do; learning through sports
    7. You can do that without compromising your values/ethics
  2. You spent a number of years at the University of Oklahoma working in marketing, promotions and external affairs. How have you seen those areas change since those early days, and how do you see them changing in the future.
    1. Started at UNC in the ticket office before Joe Castiglione called and asked him to join the marketing department at OU
    2. Joe hired Matt Trantham around the same time for development, but soon moved over to join Rick in marketing. The two of them were able to build that department from scratch.
    3. Of course now there are 12 people doing those jobs that the two of them were doing at the time. There is more specialization now and there is more on your plate. Technology has changed and you have to manage that. And you have to be adding new revenue streams and enhancing the fan experience and engaging the community.
    4. Joe knows how to do these things and he is the best at it. External roles will continue to grow and become more important.
    5. (Daniel following up on TV attacking attendance) – always been competition but now you are competing against yourself. So how can you differentiate the in-venue experience and offer exclusive access/atmosphere. Different seat types is one way you’re seeing now (verandas; beaches). Know your audiences/fans and address their desires for a social experience.
    6. (Daniel following up on process to identify how to differentiate) – You have to engage those constituents. Sometimes he might think something is important, but when you ask you find out it wasn’t that important. You have to gather feedback (surveys, focus groups, etc.). Millennials want something different than the traditional fans, and you have to address both even though right now most of the revenue comes from the traditional fans. You have to prepare and build for the future.
    7. Think about factors and tradeoffs. TV is big for rights fees, but gametimes aren’t convenient for fans and therefore discourages attendance. His kids are in high school and he watches how they consume their entertainment.
    8. (Daniel follow up on Joe C’s leadership style of throwing Rick/Matt into the fire) – One of Joe’s greatest strengths is his ability to identify talent and get the right people in the right places doing the right things at the right time. He trusted Rick to get the job done. And when Joe hired him, he knew he didn’t have marketing experience, but knew Rick could learn the job. He was hired based on his character and values. So many resumes look similar; it’s about finding out who the person is. You hire the person based on who they are and not just what they’ve done.
  3. What was the biggest challenge facing you when you arrived at SMU, and how did you go about addressing it?
    1. Challenges range from personal to professional. Personal when it comes to work/life balance since there really is none in college athletics.
    2. Challenges professionally were often made easier with a good set of mentors.
    3. Accept challenges are a big part of the job; he doesn’t catalog them though. He learns from mistakes/shortcomings/failures, but don’t dwell on them. Make sure you know who you are, so that with each challenge if you operate within that framework you can live with the results no matter what they are. To pursue excellence you’re going to make mistakes.
  4. How do you handle conflict between two (or more) of your staff?
    1. There’s some soft skill and emotional intelligence involved
    2. One of their values is respect
    3. Tweaked the golden rule: treat others the way they want to be treated – everyone is different and to respect someone is to be aware that everyone doesn’t want to be treated the same way you do. Try to operate in an environment where you can challenge ideas, but know there are limits in how you interact with one another.
    4. Also the better the relationship is leading into a conflict, the smoother the process to resolve the conflict
  5. How do you approach trying to achieve some work/life balance?
    1. Communicate expectations
    2. Schedule family events/time along with your work appointments; make a commitment
    3. Use technology to your advantage, but understand you are always on the job with a cell phone in your pocket.
    4. You have to integrate the work/life, because they really become one
    5. (Daniel following up with the Coach Stoops/family night) – you have to create a culture where the kids can be part of what’s going on. It’s good for the student-athletes to see healthy family interaction and relationships, levity, casual atmosphere. You have to integrate the kids where you can, and it’s a healthy way for kids to grow up. They see young men/women mastering their sport and their studies. It’s also a great retention tool to hang on to your staff.
  6. You initiated a strategic plan titled “The SMU Advantage.” Can you tell us how you put that plan together, and offer advice on how to put together a strategic plan that will be effective?
    1. First exposure to strategic planning was at OU, and then at Chattanooga installed a plan and learned more about how to do it
    2. At SMU, you can’t start from zero and get everyone involved or it won’t get done. So there needs to be a framework to begin with. Then you can bring people in to get ownership.
    3. Met individually with staff to ask key questions and develop some themes; based upon who everyone thinks the department is and who they want to me, here is the plan – to achieve the mission, goals and values.
    4. Then you have to determine the role everyone has in contributing to the plan.

Thank Yous/Acknowledgements:

  1. Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Groupmusic
    1. More here.
  2. Jonathan Davis – production
  3. Clint Musslewhite voice over

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