KNOXVILLE (WATE) – WATE 6 On Your Side Sports Director Marshall Hughes had the chance Friday to speak with incoming University of Tennessee Athletics Director John Currie in a candid one-on-one interview.
MARSHALL HUGHES: Your opening speech is now in the books but you won’t take over the athletics director position officially until April 1. Has is set in yet?
JOHN CURRIE: Candidly, it’s still a bit of a dream to feel that I’m here but we’re already getting started and getting around and meeting some folks and doing a lot of listening. Dave Hart has done a great job leading this program. He’s someone I’ve admired for a long time and known for a long time. I’ll be here on April 1. In the meantime, I’ll be doing a little bit of back and forth and planning.
MH: You grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. What did your mother and father do as you grew up?
JC: My mother was a librarian. When I went to college, she actually went back and got a masters in divinity and was a Methodist pastor for about 15 years. My father was a physician. He was affiliated with the University of North Carolina for a while and then went to some places like John Hopkins and Dartmouth.
Previous story: Tennessee hires John Currie as athletics director
MH: You went to Wake Forest graduating with a history degree. What did you want to do at that point in your life?
JC: My aspiration in college was I was going to be a high school history teacher and a baseball coach or a soccer coach or something like that so I still have not reached my college aspiration. Growing up in a town where college sports were really important, the opportunities provided through intercollegiate athletics were really important and doing it the right way was really important, those things all helped shape me and I was always interested but never really knew what that path would be. While I was at Wake Forest, I got to know their new athletics director Ron Wellman who remains one of my original mentors and is still the athletics director there after 24 years. I ended up with an internship at the Deacon Club office and the rest was history.
MH: With Wellman being one of your mentors, is being an athletics director for that long something you also aspire to do?
JC: I didn’t want to just go somewhere for two to three years and go somewhere else and go somewhere else. It’s hard for me to leave places. I’ve put in pretty deep roots so going out to Kansas State and being there eight years, it’s really hard to say goodbye to some incredible friends and across the community, it’s a special place. Sometimes, it’s time to make that next step and I’m really lucky that this gets to be it.
MH: After leaving Tennessee for Kansas State, what did you learn in that eight year span that you can add to your resume or your game since working in Knoxville?
JC: Well it’s really not about me or my resume or my game. What it’s really about is our student-athletes and our coaches and advocating and supporting, helping and being a resource is what it’s really all about. My time at Kansas State, we went into a situation where we had an enormous trust deficit there. There were financial irregularities, a budget deficit faced and fundraising had fallen through the floor. Facilities, that in some cases, were decrepit and on one case, dangerous from a student-athlete perspective. We were able to attack that and have a great plan and did $210 million in facility construction without any university fees or student money or tax dollars, all privately fundraised and put them in position of having a pretty good facility infrastructure. I mentioned yesterday in my comments, Bill Snyder is a hall of fame football coach so I’m blessed in my life. I’ve gotten to work with hall of fame Doug Dickey, hall of fame coach Phil Fulmer, hall of fame coach Pat Summitt, and hall of fame coach Bill Snyder. We have seven game maxims here at Tennessee and they’re important to me. When I went to K-State, coach Snyder has 16 goals for success and Pat had a definite dozen. Of the two 16 goals for success, my two favorite are goal number 12, no self-limitations. They have the best football operations building in their conference. No self-limitations. How can Kansas State have the best building in the conference? Well, they do. The other goal from coach Snyder that is really important, unity.
Previous story: UT athletics director Currie’s 5-year deal could total $8.4M
MH: Let’s say you decided to remain the athletics director at Kansas State. Sooner rather than later, you would need to find a new football coach. Was that on your mind when you took the position at Tennessee?
JC: The job of an AD is all about preparation. You’re going to have transition, whether it’s a ticket manager or a coach so you always have to be thinking about succession. One of things I’m proud about is Larry Veatch is their acting athletics director and I think he has a good chance of being the next athletics director and he’ll do an even better job than I did and he’s perfectly positioned. The interesting thing about coach Snyder when I went there in 2009, he had just been rehired three months before I got there. So of course people are like, ‘how long is he going to coach?’ Coach Snyder even said I’d do it for a couple of years. Eight years later, he’s still going strong; they’re going to have a great team this coming year. In that eight-year period, the University of Kansas had three football coaches so what you realize nothing is definite.
MH: From Bill Snyder to Butch Jones. What is your first impression of coach Jones?
JC: Well I’ve known coach Jones; you cross over different functions and events throughout the years. I know folks that worked with him at Cincinnati. I’ve got great respect for him and the job he does. He’s certainly passionate about winning at the highest level and we all are.
MH: How important is it to continue to have Phillip Fulmer be a part of this program?
JC: Phillip Fulmer led us to the greatest era of modern history of Tennessee football. That decade of dominance he led the program on was incredibly special. The level of accomplishment achieved under Phillip Fulmer represents where we need to get back to. It’s not easy to get there. We won that national championship in 1998. Those are hard, hard, hard things to get done and I can’t wait to continue to work towards those goals.
MH: This is a position that comes with criticism. How would say you handle that?
JC: I’ll take passion over apathy any day. People at the University of Tennessee care and they want and we want to succeed at the highest level academically and athletically. You look at the University; Chancellor Davenport’s going to take us to great heights going forward. Dr. DiPietro, leading the state system over the last number of years, Dr. Cheek, there’s incredible progress here from an academic standpoint. Sometimes it’s so easy to get trapped up in what you haven’t done to not look back and see what you have done. People care, they want to win so I got no problem with that.
MH: You come off as confident and competitive. Would you use either of those traits to describe yourself?
JC: I think competitive, no doubt. No doubt. I think confidence can go two ways. There’s a fine line between confidence and cocky. I believe that I’ve been fortunate enough to be around enough good people that that’s given me the belief that I can be a contributor. But at the end of the day, you have to remember, athletics director’s don’t go onto the field an shoot or throw or whatever and athletics director’s don’t get on the road or in a plane or in a car and sit in someone’s home and sell the University of Tennessee. Our coaches and our student-athletes are the most important things about the intercollegiate athletics. Our job is to come to work every day to give them everything they need to be successful academically and athletically.
MH: Your three children were all born here. Is it important to you to have them grow up in Knoxville?
JC: This place is where all my children were born right up the road. My wife and I, really, the first ten years of our marriage were here. She can definitely attest to my evolution over time so it is really neat to be back here. My mother lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. My father unfortunately passed away about a year and a half ago. My wife’s mother lives in Pinehurst, her father lives in South Carolina so this is a little easier for the grandparents too.
MH: When you worked at Tennessee, there were some coaches that were hired. How involved were you during those hires?
JC: There were some that I was very involved with, some that I wasn’t involved with at all. What you learn over time, going through those different processes, that transition is part of the deal. It’s critically important to hire people with the highest character and it’s also important to hire people that fit. Not everyone fits everywhere so that’s one of the things you learn over time.