By Steve Williams

I‘m beginning to think Dave Hart carries a four-leaf clover around in his pocket. It might even be one he picked off the ground in Tuscaloosa years ago. That doesn’t matter. It’s working for Tennessee now.

The popularity rating of the University of Tennessee athletic director jumped from zero to hero in most of Volville recently with his hiring of Rick Barnes as head basketball coach.

Just a few days before that hire, Hart had to fire Donnie Tyndall with cause and admit, considering how things turned out, he made a mistake by hiring Tyndall a year ago.

Hart was led to believe Tyndall’s NCAA wrongdoings had ended at Morehead State, but from all indications, more garbage spilled out at Southern Miss, where Tyndall last coached before getting the Tennessee job.

Hart was guilty of being too trusting. But some still wanted to put the UT AD in the unemployment line, too.

After all, Hart and university chancellor Jimmy Cheek had already ruffled the feathers of Lady Vol fans with their puzzling branding decision to eliminate the iconic Lady Vol nickname from all women’s teams except basketball.

Hart, or should I say Lucky Dave, came out of it smelling like a rose.

Texas let Barnes go after 17 seasons, even though he was one of the winningest active coaches in the nation. Hart quickly let it be known Barnes was Tennessee’s No. 1 choice, if he was interested. The timing couldn’t have been better.

Four days after Tyndall was fired, Barnes was hired.

Hart’s rebound shot was a slam dunk.

The mood throughout Big Orange Country instantly became much brighter.

Even the weather got warmer. The sky bluer. The birds happier. Even the Vols’ baseball team got better.

This was the second time Lucky Dave rebounded with a great hire in his four years at Tennessee. He missed getting Charlie Strong, but came back and landed Butch Jones to turn around a struggling football program.

I wonder now if Hart should parlay his new found popularity into something even bigger.

Hart is hot. But just think how much more his popularity could rise if he made all those Lady Vol fans happy and reversed his decision on that branding fiasco.

It’s a no-win battle anyway. Even if the university officially goes through with calling all of its women’s sports team, except basketball, “Volunteers” and issues them the “Power T” logo, like the men’s teams have, to make it “One Tennessee,” the new branding won’t ever really be accepted.

Lady Vol fans, from one generation to the next, will forever refer to all Tennessee women’s teams as “Lady Vols.”

Headline writers and many sportswriters will continue to distinguish between UT’s men’s and women’s teams by writing “Vols” and “Lady Vols.”

TV and radio play-by-play announcers will even slip up and say “Lady Vols” now and then.

But that’s okay. It’s really who we are.

Now’s your chance Dave Hart. Score big with another rebound.