Currie’s comeback: Visible and back to the classroom
Within a week of his dismissal at Tennessee last December, Athletic Director John Currie began thinking about how he’d respond. He never imagined that his tenure with the Volunteers would last just eight months and end in the middle of a controversial football coaching search.
So, as Currie pondered his future, he faced two options: go underground, lick his wounds and wait for the story to die down; or stay visible, stay relevant and don’t apologize for doing his job.
Despite the bizarre circumstances that led to Currie’s ouster — fans protested his coaching search so vociferously that Currie had to be removed — he decided not to go into hiding, as some urged him to do.
Currie built his reputation during eight years as Kansas State’s AD, in part, on transparency, so much so that he handed out pocket-sized cards with the Wildcats’ annual athletic budget printed on them. After the way things ended at Tennessee, he thought disappearing would have been contrary to what he preached as AD.
Instead, he began his recovery by looking for opportunities to engage with others in the business and stay visible within the college athletics community.
The week after departing Tennessee, Currie made an appearance in New York at the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum and the following month he went to Atlanta for the College Football Playoff championship game, attending a large dinner hosted by Ben Sutton. In subsequent months, Currie attended the Black Student-Athlete Forum in Austin, Texas, and spoke at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
He also served as executive-in-residence at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and taught a graduate class last month at Columbia University. In April, he spoke at the Collegiate Sports Summit for ADs.
The schedule enabled Currie to go to some events he’d never been to before, while also broadening his contacts.
Sitting in a classroom at Columbia last month, where he had spent the afternoon talking to students about many of the fundamentals in college athletics, Currie switched gears for a 30-minute interview on how he planned to rebound and the importance of “sticking with our values, operating as professionals, despite the distractions or anything else that might swirl.”
Currie, 47, said teaching the class is one way he’s stayed energized for whatever comes next professionally, which hopefully will be another high-level AD job, he said.
“It helped remind me why I love being on campus,” Currie said from a fifth-floor classroom in Lewisohn Hall, a 113-year-old academic building. “Building relationships and learning how different places and entities work is fun and fulfilling for me. It has reinforced my passion for higher learning and athletics. … Truly listening and learning from such a diverse group of people from across the country will only better equip me to serve others.”
There’s another motivation, Currie said, that aligns with his desire to be an AD again.
“I’m looking to build my depth chart,” he said of the Columbia class of 13 graduate students. “There may be someone in here that I’d try to hire one day. And there may be someone in here who wants to hire me one day. … I intend to work for a long time.”
Without addressing any specific AD opening, Currie said, “I’m looking forward to the right opportunity where my values are a great fit.”
Currie sends the impression that he’s moved on from the strange events at Tennessee and he’s not altogether interested in rehashing it one more time. Seven months after his dismissal, he talks more about the accomplishments at Tennessee than any regrets.
When asked what he’d do over again, Currie instead launched into a list of achievements, starting with his decision to bring back the Lady Vols branding, multiple senior-level women hires on his staff and coaching hires for baseball and men’s tennis.
“So we move on to the next challenge knowing that I’ll be better for the experience,” he said.