By Steve Williams
John Currie’s job as Director of Athletics at the University of Tennessee is not all about firing and hiring, but that’s an important part of it. He must have coaches who know how to win and get it done.
College athletics too are not just about winning, but that’s a big part of it, particularly in this day and age of multi-million dollar athletic budgets and coaching salaries and what have you done for me lately.
Currie couldn’t have arrived at a worse time in the modern history of UT athletics as far as winning. That was validated when Tennessee’s men’s and women’s teams combined finished 46th in the Directors’ Cup standings in the 2016-17 school year – the school’s worst showing since the first year of the Directors’ Cup in 1993-94.
It was further bore out in the National Collegiate All-Sports Rankings I compiled for The Focus in July. In my survey, which ranks the men’s and women’s programs separately, the Vols tied for 48th place and the Lady Vols shared 64th place with three other schools.
Tennessee athletics have seen much better days. Tom Satkowiak, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, noted Tennessee’s all-time best finish in the Director’s Cup was seventh in 2006-07.
In the National Collegiate All-Sports Rankings for men’s programs in 1972-73, Tennessee ranked No. 3 in the country behind UCLA and Southern Cal. During that glorious year, with Bob Woodruff serving as the UT Athletics Director, the Vols captured the national championship in cross country and were national runners-up in swimming and diving, plus were fifth in track and field, eighth in football and tied for 14th in tennis.
The UT athletics program also ranked sixth in the nation in 1971 and 1972.
Currie made his first coaching change at UT in early May, just a little over a month into his new job, when he fired tennis coach Sam Winterbotham and promoted Chris Woodruff to head coach. A month after that, Dave Serrano, as expected, stepped down as baseball skipper and Currie filled that post with Tony Vitello, an assistant coach at Arkansas.
The new school year is underway. Tennessee’s soccer and volleyball teams got off to winning starts. Cross country teams were scheduled to run in their first meet this past weekend and the football team was to have played Georgia Tech in Atlanta Labor Day night.
It is a critical year for UT sports across the board. Some coaches could be facing make-or-break seasons and should be.
It’s not just football time in Tennessee. It’s time for UT to return to the glory days of being a frontrunner on the national collegiate all-sports scene.