There is one man that stood in the middle of two of the most embarrassing days in Tennessee football.
His name is John Currie.
Tennessee’s athletic director made the Vols the laughing stock of college football on Sunday when he tried to make Greg Schiano the head coach of one of the best programs in college football. In case you haven’t heard, it didn’t go well.
Currie, in case you forgot, was also a member of the the braintrust (used loosely) that thought it best to fire Phillip Fulmer in 2008 and replace him with Lane Kiffin. That didn’t go so well either. Fans rioted. Kiffin snuck out like the Baltimore Colts and, well, the rest is history.
The move to fire Fulmer and hire Kiffin was certainly understandable. Fulmer had two losing seasons in four years. Kiffin was a hot commodity. Washington was reportedly on the verge of hiring him before the Vols swooped in with a big orange cape and the most pathetic buyout in UT history.
The mistake wasn’t hiring Kiffin; it was his contract. Kiffin’s buyout to leave the Vols after one season and take his “dream job” at Southern California was a paltry $800,000. That was chump change for USC. Kiffin always had Southern California on his mind and who could blame him. He had vast ties there and they were desperate. All of the Trojans’ other candidates said ‘No thanks’ and with good reason.
USC was facing major NCAA sanctions but the Vols thought they had Kiffin for good because he was a member of the staff during those violations. USC paid that buyout with ease and walked away with a coach that could get them through scholarship limitations until the next great thing came along.
However, this isn’t a debate about who will be UT’s next coach. It is about what Currie has done to UT. His resume is weak. He made the Vols look even weaker with the Schiano fiasco. There were better candidates than Schiano and it’s not even close. Either UT doesn’t want to pay for an elite coach or Currie is being told who to hire, likely by a booster that happens to sell gas on the side.
The Vols need a strong athletic director that won’t accept directives from boosters. Former UT athletic director Doug Dickey was that type of athletic director and that went pretty well. Currie can still be that kind of athletic director but things need to change now. He needs to assert his power and boosters need to back off.
So where do the Vols go from here? Well, it seems very likely that their options are more limited than they were last week. Coaches that were considered mid-level candidates last week may have already written off Tennessee after the Schiano debacle. Would coaches like Mike Leach of Washington State or Jeff Brohm of Purdue still be interested or incredibly wary of coming to Knoxville? Many will be the latter.
Some have suggested going with a “Tennessee guy” in finding a new coach. Yet former UT assistant coach David Cutcliffe recently said he’s not interested and wants to finish his career at Duke. Former UT quarterback Tee Martin, who is the offensive coordinator at Southern California, has no head coaching experience. And then there’s former UT graduate assistant Jon Gruden. Let’s just not go there.
Whoever the coach ends up being will need to trust Currie and that could be a tough sell. Reports already surfaced that some boosters wanted him fired. No coach with a solid job wants to wonder who his boss will be in two or three years.
Schiano’s connection with the atrocious Penn State scandal may be relevant or simply fuel for the fire that wanted Gruden. That really doesn’t matter. The reaction was underestimated and when Currie was challenged by his fan base, he folded. Simply put, Currie has been in the middle of the two most embarrassing incidents in Tennessee football history. UT fans had better hope there’s not another in the works.