Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie wanted to hire Greg Schiano to coach the Vols’ football team. It didn’t go well. Mike Gundy thought hard about it but decided to stick with Oklahoma State. Currie then reportedly turned to Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren. Nope, nope, nope. Then, the school was trying to land Mike Leach, with Currie reportedly flying to Los Angeles on Thursday to meet with Washington State’s coach for a meeting that went “very well,” according to Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman.
But there’s a big snag in those plans: Chynna Greene of WVLT in Knoxville was the first to report Friday that Tennessee has fired Currie, which is pretty much the default move for an alleged college football powerhouse that completely botched its first coaching choice and since then has been turned down by coaches from Duke, Purdue and N.C. State, those noted gridiron strongholds.
Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport announced the firing later Friday and said former coach Phillip Fulmer will take over as acting AD.
“I have taken these steps in the best interest of the university,” Chancellor Beverly Davenport said in a news release (per the Knoxville Sentinel). “I am confident that Phillip understands the need to support our student-athletes and our commitment to excellence in all athletic programs. I appreciate his willingness to serve during this critical time.”
Currie lasted just eight months on the job after coming to Tennessee from Kansas State. His tenure will mainly be remembered for a 4-8 football season (the Volunteers’ worst record since 1977), the firing of Butch Jones and then a coaching search with the “Benny Hill Show” theme song as its soundtrack.
For all that, Currie will be owed a buyout of $5.5 million if he’s fired without cause, according to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz.
Reporting on Tennessee’s meeting with Leach before the athletic director swap became official, Feldman wrote that things have been complicated, to put it mildly, by the mess in the Tennessee athletic department.
“We’ve heard from multiple sources there is a lot of infighting, finger-pointing and backstabbing taking place amongst Tennessee brass,” Feldman wrote before news of Currie’s firing broke. “As SI reported earlier this week, there is a growing faction at Tennessee pushing to get Currie removed. Former Vols head coach Phil Fulmer is said to be one of those battling with Currie and that could muck up the process to reel in Leach.”
Brett McMurphy adds to Feldman’s reporting, confirming that Fulmer’s fingerprints are all over this.
Fulmer is the last coach to lead Tennessee to anything resembling sustained football success, having won the 1998 BCS championship and leading the Vols to double-digit wins nine times. But he was forced out after a 5-7 season in 2008, when Currie was a high-ranking Tennessee athletic department employee. That seems to have some bearing on what’s going on Friday.
Since Fulmer was fired, Tennessee has had five losing seasons and has not won more than nine games. And now the Vols have another job opening.
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