John Currie’s mind raced as he watched a Kansas State tennis match Friday morning. When he was hired as athletic director in 2009, the Wildcats held matches on recreational courts 19 miles away in Wamego. Now they play on campus in a modern six-court complex overlooked by a scoreboard and bleachers.
“I am really proud,” Currie said in an interview with The Star. “I am really proud of this facility, as proud as any other facility we have built. This was a program teetering on the brink of extinction.”
That journey made Currie think back to his first days on the job, when K-State athletics lacked profitability and modern facilities. It also had him looking to the future now that those concerns have been addressed. Both were appropriate thoughts on a day K-State announced a two-year contract extension for Currie that runs through 2022.
During his tenure, which ties Max Urick for the fourth longest among K-State athletic directors, the university has experienced unparallelled growth in athletic facility upgrades. Currie has overseen $210 million worth of new construction and renovations, including a facelift for Bill Snyder Family Stadium, a basketball training center, a rowing complex and on-campus tennis courts. Donations have soared.
K-State has also tasted high levels of success under Currie, most notably during the 2012-13 athletic year when the Wildcats won Big 12 championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball.
The Wildcats’ most prominent teams have slipped since then, with the football team winning 23 games the past three seasons and the men’s basketball team missing the postseason in consecutive years. But Currie thinks both teams are poised for more. He hopes his contract extension boosts that belief.
“At a time when we have transition at our university, this is really a statement of stability,” Currie said.
Currie’s salary of $775,000 will remain unchanged under the new agreement, but he will receive retention bonuses if he remains at K-State through the life of his contract. He is set to receive $100,000 on June 30, 2017, and $275,000 on the same date in 2021. In 2022, the bonus increases to $325,000.
Extra money may not be the only thing Currie gets if he stays at K-State for six more years. He may also get the opportunity to choose Bill Snyder’s replacement. Snyder, 76, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December and is now entering the twilight of his coaching career. No one knows how much longer he plans to coach, but he seems unlikely to continue through 2022.
Currie is tasked with formulating a succession plan.
“It’s not in the back of my mind. I think about it every single day,” Currie said. “How do I continue to do the right things for K-State and to help Coach Snyder but also give his successor the best possible opportunity to be successful? When you go back to the urgency with which we built facilities, those things are both to honor Coach Snyder and to try and work as hard as he is working. If everyone is working as hard as he is working, we can do things like we have done from a facility standpoint.
“But the greatest honor of all, to him, is whenever he chooses to retire, we have created a sustainable, firm foundation that the next coach can continue.”
Currie has other long-term goals, but none is more important.
The idea of a contract extension was first mentioned by outgoing university president Kirk Schulz, Currie said. He initiated talks last week after discussing the idea with the Kansas Board of Regents.
“Under John Currie’s leadership, K-State has realized our aspirational goal of building a model intercollegiate athletics program,” Schulz said in a news release. “From my work as an NCAA and Big 12 board member, I can attest to the high regard our peers have for John’s leadership. Our athletic programs reflect the high level of quality that a top public university deserves.”
Interim K-State president Richard Myers backed the extension.
“I fully endorse the board and President Schulz’s recommendation and appreciate John making this commitment to K-State during a time of leadership transition,” Myers said. “It has been impressive to see the growth of our athletics department under his leadership, and I look forward to working with John.”
Currie hopes there are more days ahead like Friday. He celebrated news of his contract extension in his favorite way: victory. K-State beat Southern Illinois 4-2 in tennis.
“This is a great place,” Currie said. “There is a high ceiling for this university and its athletic programs. As long as we feel like we are continuing to make progress together and I have a positive impact, I am going to be here. There is no better college town in America.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett