By Alex Norman
By the time you read this, Tennessee might have a head coach… or they might not. Who the heck knows.
The past three weeks have been an absolute embarrassment, not only for the Tennessee football program, but for the University itself.
I thought it would be different this time. Tennessee athletics director John Currie (yes more on him in a second), while being high strung and reportedly tough to work for, wasn’t supposed to make these kinds of mistakes. He cared about the public relations aspect of things, as opposed to the man he replaced, Dave Hart, who made decision after decision that cast Tennessee in a negative light.
Currie brought back the Lady Vols name for all women’s sports. He saw that men’s tennis and baseball were underachieving, so he made coaching changes. Currie engaged with fans via social media and sent out newsletters updating things going on with Tennessee athletics.
But this football coaching search has proved that, like Hart, he had no idea what Tennessee fans want or expect.
On Friday, December 1st, the bomb finally dropped. Take it away, UT Chancellor Dr. Beverly Davenport!
“Early yesterday afternoon (November 30th) I asked John Currie to return to Knoxville before going forward with the search. That request had nothing to do with any specific coach. When there are high expectations about a great place, those high expectations come with challenges and challenges require tough decisions. Today required one of those decisions. This morning, I decided to make a change in leadership in our athletics department. It’s a decision that I feel was in the best interest of this university. John Currie has been suspended, and Phillip Fulmer has agreed to step in as our athletic director. I want you to know John Currie has worked tirelessly in his position, and I respect him for his commitment and contributions to the University of Tennessee. This process was not satisfactory.”
If I told you back in November 2008, when a teary-eyed Phillip Fulmer addressed the media and his team during the press conference to announce his firing, that this scenario would play out 9 years later? You’d think I had lost my mind.
But the way that Currie, prominent boosters, and the UT administration have acted over the past few weeks have turned this search into a debacle. The fact that Davenport told Currie to come home, and instead flew out to Los Angeles to interview Washington State coach Mike Leach, was the last straw. Currie had to be dismissed.
Currie tried to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as the replacement for Butch Jones. No one else in that athletic department wanted Tennessee to hire Schiano and when I say no one I mean no one. He was an awful choice for a multitude of reasons, the greatest of which being that he was accused in court documents of seeing Jerry Sandusky abuse a boy at Penn State in the 1990s.
Schiano is thought of as Butch Jones 2.0. A hot head with thin skin that can’t take criticism. What on earth would make you believe that he’s the man for the Tennessee job?
Currie was in Columbus dotting the i’s when the news broke that the signing was imminent, and Tennessee fans flipped out. They flooded social media with their anger, they protested on campus, and they painted the rock. The displeasure was so strong that Currie backed out, despite signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Schiano. This will likely get settled in the courts, as Schiano will be interested in getting the money he feels is coming to him.
In the days to come, Duke’s David Cutcliffe said no, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy used a Vols offer to get a raise, a deal with Purdue’s Jeff Brohm fell through, North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren used a Vols offer to get a raise, and finally the trip to see Leach. At the same time, some of the names being bantered about for the Tennessee job were getting reportedly getting calls from folks at UT telling them how toxic things are currently.
This all happened within 5 days. And after all that? Tennessee still didn’t have a head coach!
The most important thing that Fulmer can bring to Tennessee is stability. It’s been nearly a decade of dysfunction since Fulmer was fired. Tennessee has never been the same since that day. Hopefully he will be the calming force that the Vols so desperately need.
Heck, things can’t get any worse…