Seeking a new football coach can be messy, but this head-spinning theater at Tennessee playing out on social media over the past few days is dysfunction in real time. And on Friday it left the Vols without both a coach and athletic director, for a while.
John Currie, who left Kansas State for Tennessee in February, didn’t make it to the end of the year in his new job. He was suspended his duties Friday morning by Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport. Phil Fulmer was installed as athletic director, giving credence to reports earlier in the day that the former Vols coach had been active behind the scenes during the search process.
Respected college football reporter Brett McMurphy cited two sources when he tweeted that Currie’s search had been “sabotaged” by Fulmer.
Whatever happened, nobody seems to be rushing to Currie’s defense, including Tennessee lawmakers who seemed ready for change. One called it “a big ol’ mess.”
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Such was the case upon Currie’s departure from Manhattan. He excelled in financial matters, which played to his background in development. When it came to coaching transitions, though, Currie operated against fan sentiment.
In basketball, when then K-State AD Currie didn’t support men’s basketball Frank Martin strongly enough, the wildly popular coach left Manhattan for South Carolina. His replacement, Bruce Weber, was met with a tepid response.
Then there was the recent report, again from McMurphy, that Currie attempted to orchestrate Bill Snyder’s succession with a lucrative offer to former assistant Jim Leavitt as coach-in-waiting. Snyder said he offered Leavitt a job but said he was unaware of any succession plan.
That power play failed. The one to remove Currie from Tennessee did not.
Currie fired Butch Jones after the Vols were crushed by Missouri and believed he had his man, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, in place last Sunday.
Outrage over the choice spread through social media for two apparent reasons: 1) Schiano, a former Penn State assistant, was linked to an unproven allegation that he knew about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual-abuse crimes while with the Nittany Lions, and 2) he just wasn’t a good enough choice.
Either way, Currie’s big mistake here was not taking the temperature of the Tennessee fan base by leaking Schiano’s name before the stunning announcement.
What occurred Sunday, and not being able to save the error with a smash hire in the next few days — instead running through a succession of candidates that reportedly included Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren and most recently Washington State’s Mike Leach, along with perhaps a shove from Fulmer — is why Currie is now unemployed.
Unemployed, but not poor. Oh, no. Currie has been suspended with pay. His contract calls for him to receive $5.5 million if he’s relieved without cause. The number is reduced if Currie finds a comparable job, but it’s difficult to see him surfacing as a Power Five conference athletic director anytime soon.
Add that to the $8.3 million Tennessee owes Butch Jones in a previous settlement, and we’re talking Bank of Charlie Weis money here.
With the news of Mississippi’s athletic program getting hammered by the NCAA, which extended the football program’s bowl ban to next season, rising seniors will be allowed to transfer without penalty. Scholarships have been docked too. College football has had better days than Friday.
The conference championship games, which began with the Pac-12 Friday night and continue with the four other Power Five games on Saturday, can’t arrive soon enough.