KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s leadership lost faith in athletic director John Currie’s ability to carry out the search for a football coach. That led to him being relieved of his duties on Friday, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
Tennessee has a news conference scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Friday to announce the direction of its athletic department, and presumably, its coaching search.
Currie was secretive during the first two weeks of the coaching search, involving only booster Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee icon Peyton Manning.
Currie’s first mistake was not involving a search firm, which could have saved Tennessee the embarrassment of public rejections and upheaval.
When word leaked on Sunday that Currie was in the final stages of negotiations with controversial Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, the Vols fan base unleashed a social media firestorm of unprecedented proportions. Protests broke out on campus, and Tennessee backed out of its deal with Schiano.
Phillip Fulmer’s role
Vols Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer, announced June 20 as special adviser to the president, had not been involved in the coaching search up to the point of the Schiano negotiations.
But by the end of the week, when Currie was traveling to North Carolina to interview North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren, Fulmer was accompanying him.
That could be interpreted as a sign that university president Joe DiPietro wanted the situation monitored more closely. Fulmer has grown close with DiPietro, working by his side at fundraising events, with the two forming a strong leadership front.
Previously, part of the stipulation of Fulmer’s position as adviser to the president was that he would not be directly involved with dealings in the athletic department, according to the source.
Time running out
Fulmer’s presence on the plane to North Carolina was a sign that Currie’s job was in jeopardy.
Doeren, of course, is the latest of several coaches to rebuff Tennessee.
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm all made it clear they did not have interest in the job leading up to the offer to Doeren.
Currie was in the midst of negotiations with Washington State coach Mike Leach when he was called back to Knoxville to meet with chancellor Beverly Davenport on Friday morning.
Currie was hired in February and began his athletic duties on April 1.
Currie hired baseball coach Tony Vitello on June 7, and he worked with Davenport to reinstate the Lady Vols name and logo to all women’s athletic teams.
Currie’s tenure, however, will be remembered for what has become the biggest coaching hire debacle since Alabama’s dealings with Mike Price in 2003.