John Currie is gone now, walking away from the struggles and decisions and successes and problems he helped create in the athletic department at Kansas State. He is leaving for more money and a better league and old friendships as the new athletic director at Tennessee.
Nobody can begrudge him that personal choice. Who among us wouldn’t leave our current jobs if it meant better pay, more stability, a higher profile, and going home?
But this is a strange situation, still, because usually when a man leaves for an objectively better job it means he’s outgrown his old place and the people there are sad to see him go.
Here, with Currie and K-State, not so much.
Currie did more to help K-State athletics in his eight years in charge than he will be remembered for. He wouldn’t admit this, even privately, but that had to bother him on some levels. He was a proper fundraiser who was always driven by the realization that facility upgrades are by far the most important daily priority of an athletic director in modern major college sports.
But if Currie is as smart and self-aware as he came across in private conversations, then he also must realize that in the ways that matter most — particularly to fans — he is leaving K-State in worse shape than he found it.
Whatever preparation Currie had done to hire the next football coach — even Bill Snyder is unlikely to coach forever — will have to be taken up on the fly by the next athletic director.
More immediately, Bruce Weber’s men’s basketball program is the next man’s problem. Currie made that hire five years ago, and no matter how much he wants to talk about Weber outperforming most of that year’s hiring class, Weber has already been around longer than some athletic directors may have allowed and Weber’s continued employment at K-State has presumably depended on making this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Currie likely would’ve fired Weber or extended his contract for two years based on this season’s finish, but that decision will now be made by someone else.
There is no way to know how that will go, particularly before Currie’s replacement is hired. Weber’s status will almost certainly be part of the interview process for the next A.D., but athletic director’s typically lean toward giving the incumbents some time while adjusting to a new place and addressing other priorities.
The problem, assuming the Wildcats don’t make the NCAA Tournament, is that a coach who may otherwise have been fired could be given the industry’s equivalent of a governor’s stay of execution. That would make the second time in three years that Weber could’ve been fired.
This is a big-boy job, and the new leader will need a quick learning curve in at least three critical areas: continued facility improvement, a succession plan for Snyder, and a strong grasp on what to do about Weber and men’s basketball.
In some coaching circles, Currie is viewed with skepticism, in part because he’s seen as having driven Frank Martin toward South Carolina.
Weber has long been the opposite of Martin in many ways — fully supported by the administration, and disliked by many fans. Martin was never a long-term solution at K-State, and was often an unnecessary pain for the administration and many who wanted him to succeed.
But he won the subtle public-relations game against his bosses in a blowout, and many coaches saw Currie as lacking the level of support they’d want in a boss.
In this way, Currie’s timing puts K-State in a conflicted place. If a new athletic director means Weber gets an extra year, it also might might a deeper pool of potential replacements.
Currie’s replacement will be hired by an administration that has been supportive of Weber, though these things can be fluid, and Weber is skidding toward the season’s finish line.
Either way, relationships, reputation among coaches, and track record of hiring coaches should all be near the top of the list of criteria for the next athletic director.
This was supposed to be Currie’s decision. Currie could’ve stayed, and had an outsized role in determining the future of K-State athletics.
He has instead taken what he believes is a better job, and nobody can fault him for that.
That’s particularly true among K-State fans because, even if there will be some short-term catch-up to do for the next leader, the important decisions will be guided by someone who may be less emotional about the present and better positioned for the next hire.