With the Tennessee Vols baseball program reaching the College World Series, former UT athletic director John Currie is looking better than ever. His two coaching hires had the best years in the athletic program this year, and his successor stepped down in early January.
Currie hired Tony Vitello in June of 2017 after Dave Serrano resigned. Two months earlier, though, he also fired men’s tennis head coach Sam Winterbotham and brought in Chris Woodruff. That program just won the SEC title, reached the NCAA Finals and had Adam Walton and Pat Harper capture the Doubles National Championship.
What happened in January also makes Currie look better. Remember, he was ousted in December of 2017 after the botched Tennessee football coaching search. Phillip Fulmer took over and hired Jeremy Pruitt. Three years later, Pruitt was fired due to an investigation on the heels of a 3-7 season, and Fulmer stepped down.
Simply put, it’s been a good year for Currie, now the athletic director of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. In many ways, he seems vindicated for what he did during his nine months on Rocky Top. I’m here to tell you he isn’t.
Solid hires in baseball and men’s tennis, restoring the Lady Vols name and Fulmer’s failure with Pruitt are not enough to overcome Currie’s own failures in the football coaching search. Nothing changes the fact that he, likely with Jimmy Haslam behind him, tried to sneak in the Greg Schiano hire on a Sunday to replace Butch Jones when nobody was paying attention.
The attempted hire of Schiano was bad enough. Everything that followed made it worse. Currie had a list of coaches he tried to bring to Knoxville, but they were in such a random order that made no sense. That order was Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren and then Mike Leach.
Any rational person who saw that list may rank Gundy at the top but would at least have Leach in second. By the time Currie was down to Leach and could have potentially sealed the deal, the incompetence of the search sealed his fate.
Another failure in that search was how long it took him to fire Butch Jones. We know that Dan Mullen was Currie’s top gettable choice, but by the time Jones was gone, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain had been fired for two weeks. That gave UF a leg up to get Mullen, and the Tennessee Vols were out of play.
Look, athletic directors are judged on their major hires, particularly football. Fulmer definitely failed as Currie’s successor when it came to Pruitt. Currie was also highly successful in other areas. None of that, however, trumps just how badly he botched the football coaching search, and that matters more than anything else.
You have to question the hiring abilities of a guy who waited three weeks to fire a coach who was obviously done and then preferred Jeff Brohm and Dave Doeren to Mike Leach. Even if he stayed on long enough for Leach to get the job, his line of thinking would have proven costly in some way down the road.
As a result, the Tennessee Vols’ success on the baseball diamond does nothing to change the fact that Currie should have been fired. He played a role in improving parts of the athletic department, but the same holds true for every athletic director at UT dating back to Mike Hamilton.
None of them have gotten the football hire right, though, and that’s what matters. Maybe Danny White will be the first one with Josh Heupel. If that doesn’t work out, though, he’ll be gone too. Making the right football hire matters most.