KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In the latest twist to what has become an embarrassing saga, John Currie has been fired as Tennessee’s athletics director, WVLT first reported Friday morning.
Currie, who had been on the job since April 1, was fired after an abstract failure of a coaching search that stretched a week with one bombshell after another. As he attempted to go it alone, without a search firm, Currie found himself in hot water early when he extended an offer to Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, and was never able to recover.
Late Thursday, after being rejected by N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, Currie headed to the opposite coast to meet with Washington State’s Mike Leach. But he was called home to Knoxville for a Friday morning meeting with UT chancellor Beverly Davenport, the first sign that something might be amiss.
Friday’s news was applauded by fans who have called for Currie to be fired since Sunday. AllThingsVol, among others, editorialized for Currie’s dismissal. But the news did not come without drama of its own. College football insider Bruce Feldman quoted a source as saying that former UT coach Phillip Fulmer has been undermining the coaching search in hopes of becoming the athletics director. And a prominent Vol fan on Twitter, Vol Colonel, tweeted that Currie was fired because he attempted to hire Leach without the approval of prominent booster Jimmy Haslam.
Adding to the drama, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy said that “university officials” blocked the hiring of Leach, and echoed Feldman’s report about Fulmer “sabotaging” the search process in hopes of becoming the school’s athletics director.
Separating truth from fiction is going to be hard to do in the hours and days ahead, but there are some interesting questions to be asked.
For starters, it’s likely that Feldman and McMurphy — two of the best reporters in the business — are sharing a source. Could that source be Currie himself, or someone in his camp? If this morning’s initial reports are true, Currie was fired for cause, which means the university does not owe him a buyout, and that in turn means he cannot be stopped from speaking publicly about what happened.
If that were to be the case, it would at the very least cast doubt on those reports of a Fulmer sabotage by giving the appearance that Currie is simply taking a sour-grapes approach. It could discredit those reports completely and lend more credence to Vol Colonel’s tweet.
On the other hand, is the UT fanbase ready to put a lot of stock into reports from a Twitter user who maintains anonymity on the social media platform?
But the story doesn’t stop there. Radio host Tony Basilio thickens the plot by claiming that Currie’s dismissal is part of a coup to force Haslam out of influence at the university.
And if you really want to get wild with the conspiracy theories? Basilio’s claim would line up with earlier reports that there is a war between the program’s most influential boosters, some of which wanted Jon Gruden to coach the Vols but were blocked by Haslam and Currie.
None of that should be taken as an attempt by AllThingsVol to verify any of those claims. We’re simply laying them out on the table.
One thing that is easily verifiable is that Tennessee’s coaching search has become a running joke on the national sports scene. Sunday’s attempted hire of Schiano would have likely happened if not for a UTAD employee who leaked news of Currie’s trip to Columbus to the press in an effort to prevent the hire from happening. It worked, as fans rebelled on social media and staged protests on campus.
Since that point, UT’s search has played out very publicly, with rejections from Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren.
It isn’t as bad as it sounds, in terms of candidates who do not want the job. Gundy may have been the only candidate interviewed by the Vols who truly wasn’t interested, and that was always a long shot. He is coaching at his alma mater, where he is the school’s all-time winningest coach. Brohm initially agreed to an offer from Tennessee, but Currie made the mistake of presenting numbers that had not been signed off on by Davenport. Negotiations failed when he attempted to present a modified offer. Doeren was also interested in the job, but backed out amid more fan backlash.
Nonetheless, in an industry where perception is everything, the perception has been created that successful coaches do not want the Tennessee job. Fans have grown increasingly frustrated by the candidates the school has targeted, especially as USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin — who won a national championship as the Vols’ quarterback in 1998 — has been shut out of the interview process and former head coach Lane Kiffin, now at Florida Atlantic, hasn’t been targeted.
Leach was Currie’s latest — and, as it turns out, his last — effort to find a replacement for Butch Jones. Word from the West Coast last night was that Currie’s meeting with Leach went well, but there has been no indication that a formal job offer was extended.
It remains to be seen whether Fulmer — who has been handed the reigns of the search process — will continue the pursuit of Leach, or whether he will back up and take another run at one of the other candidates who has been interviewed. Fulmer’s increased involvement could increase the likelihood that UT takes a serious look at Martin, who played for Fulmer. To date, Martin has not been a candidate for the UT vacancy.
One thing that is worth remembering as the search for Tennessee’s new football coach takes a new direction: according to Fulmer’s own words, he has not been intricately involved in the process to this point. So far the search has largely been conducted with Haslam and former Vols quarterback Peyton Manning as Currie’s closest confidants.
Manning’s involvement has been awkward for Tennessee fans who adore the school’s favorite son, but who have railed against Currie’s decisions.
The bottom line: the next 48 hours should prove to be very interesting. And let’s hope someone is keeping notes to someday write a book. It could be a best-seller.