10Sports anchor Patrick Murray sat down one-on-one with new UT athletics director John Currie Friday morning. Here is the transcript of the interview.
Patrick Murray: First off, simple question but I couldn’t easily find this online. What’s your hometown, where are you from?
John Currie: Thank you for asking a new question. I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I grew up – that’s a college town – I grew up going to Kenan Stadium and watching Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty and guys like that play basketball. Then I went off to Wake Forest in 1989.
PM: How do you think growing up there in Chapel Hill maybe influenced your life or your career?
Currie: I love college sports, and I was around college sports from the earliest age. My dad would come home from work and pick me up and we’d go to Carmichael Auditorium and wedge the car in between a tree and another car. We were always a couple minutes late, ‘cause my dad was always a couple minutes late coming from work. But more than that, the role that a university, and a great university like the University of Tennessee plays in the community – the example of education, the publicity of education that comes from collegiate athletics – those are all important things to me.
PM: You kind of covered it a little bit, but when you got out of college and you were looking for a job, what made you want to get into college athletics?
Currie: When I went to college, I wasn’t as nearly as focused as the young folks are these days on what they want to do. I knew I liked sports. I was a history major. And I did not compete at the intercollegiate level, but I was really passionate about sports. I always wanted to work in sports, but I didn’t know how I would do it. I ended up getting an internship in the Deacon Club at Wake Forest under their brand new athletics director, Ron Wellman, who’s now the second-longest tenured athletics director in the country. And it really went from there.
PM: Who are some of the people you think have influenced your career the most?
Currie: Here at the University of Tennessee, people like Joan Cronan and Doug Dickey. I always talked about how I got to work with Hall of Fame coaches here like Pat Summitt and Phillip Fulmer. I got to know different coaches from all different sports here. Dr. Johnson has always been an influence on me. He signed my diploma and I had a note from him when I came in yesterday, which was pretty awesome. Around the country, people like Ron Wellman really provided me my ethical compass, as it relates to doing the right thing all the time. In my first job, that was very important to me. Our president, Kirk Schulz, at Kansas State has been great to me. There’s too many to name. I’m a product of a lot of different people. There’s that old adage that if you see a turtle on a fence post, you’re pretty sure it didn’t get there by itself.
PM: At a school like this, in your mind, what is the most important thing an AD does?
Currie: Listen. You’ve got to listen and communicate and be around your people. But underscoring all of this talk about athletics and winning is student athletes. We’ve got five hundred-something student athletes here at the University of Tennessee. I’ve been in athletics for 24 years. Our young people, they’ve got four years or maybe five years if there’s a redshirt, and they never get to do it again. We owe, we have a responsibility, and they have entrusted us with their window of their life to do this uniquely American thing, which is to participate at the highest level academically and athletically. So we have to be on point all the time to provide the opportunities – they’ve got to earn it – but to provide the opportunities to truly have a world class experience.
PM: Yesterday, you mentioned Phillip Fulmer a couple times. How would you describe your relationship with him?
Currie: I have tremendous respect for Phillip Fulmer. He led Tennessee football to the greatest era of football success in really the modern era of Tennessee football. A national championship, those things are hard to win. They are hard, hard, hard to win. That was certainly a pinnacle moment for the university. But more than anything, that era, that decade of dominance, represents a time in Tennessee’s history where all the arrows were going in the same direction. People had kind of locked arms and were marching forward. When we do that at the University of Tennessee, together, there’s nothing we can’t do. I truly believe I would not be here if I didn’t believe that this was a place that can be the very best athletics program in the country. It takes a lot to get there, but the first part of that is getting together.
PM: Have you reached out to Coach Fulmer at all since you got the job?
Currie: Again, Coach Fulmer’s going to be a part of our program in whatever way possible. He’s a very special person, and I’m looking forward to, as we have time, to connecting and getting together.
PM: I know you haven’t been here very long, but what do you think about the current direction of the football program?
Currie: I know that we won nine games last year, and that’s hard to do in this conference and around the country. Beyond that, I really don’t know much about our programs because when you’re an athletics director, you have to be completely immersed in where you are. I’ve been completely immersed in Kansas State University for the last eight years, and promoting Kansas State University, and looking after Kansas State University student athletes and coaches. One of the cool things that’s happened to me over the last 24 hours or 48 hours is the texts from moms of former players and our coaches. I got a text from one of our basketball players that asked me if I was going to be at Senior Day tomorrow, which really kind of hurt me because I can’t be. My deputy, Laird Veatch, is now the acting AD and he’s going to be there tomorrow, as he should be. But we’re going to work really hard to support all of our coaches here. They’re great coaches here at the University of Tennessee.
PM: The first time you came to Tennessee back in ’97, what drew you to Tennessee?
Currie: Coach Dickey asked me that question when I was in my interview. There happened to be a picture on his desk of the stadium, the full [Neyland] stadium. That was right after it had been expanded to 100,000, or 104,000. And this was a pinnacle job. This is the pinnacle. This is one of five or ten places in the country that are the dominant leaders in intercollegiate athletics. The opportunity to be part of that was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
PM: When you left to go to Kansas State, obviously a great opportunity for you, you’re immersed there. But what did you miss about Knoxville or UT when you were in Kansas?
Currie: I missed the people. Now, with that said, the people of Kansas and Manhattan, Kansas are unbelievable. They were unbelievable to our family. We had lots of great friends here. My youngest [child] had just been born, but my two oldest – who are 15 and 13 – they had quite a few great friends. My wife continued to have great friends here. So, one of the cool things about yesterday was my two girls – my son’s home at baseball tryouts in Manhattan – but my two girls went and spent the night with one of their buddies.
PM: Nice. So when you’re not working, what do you like to do in your free time?
Currie: I love to spend time with my family, which I don’t get to do very much because of the nature of this job. This is not really a job, it’s more of a lifestyle. I do like to snow-ski, and I was actually supposed to go to Utah on Monday night and ski on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, and come back to Manhattan on Thursday. But I enjoy music. I enjoy the outdoors. I enjoy exercise – walking, hiking. I can’t wait to be down that river and head up to Mount LeConte and all that kind of stuff.
PM: Going back to when you were talking about growing up in Chapel Hill and watching Michael Jordan, are there any specific memories or any specific games that stand out to you that you remember?
Currie: From my childhood? It goes way back, but I’ll tell you one thing. I remember when I was at Wake Forest in the 90’s, I was there during a great run in Wake Forest basketball. I remember when Rick Barnes came into the ACC and stood on that sideline staring down Dean Smith. That was such…of course, Dean Smith went to my church in Chapel Hill. I had the highest respect for him. But Coach Barnes showed his moxie pretty early in that deal.
PM: How about during your time at Tennessee? Any specific games or memories?
Currie: One of my very favorites is the Miami game. I think it was ’04 or ’03. Miami was ranked number one in the country and we went down there. You know, one of General Neyland’s maxims is “Press the kicking game” because that’s where the breaks are made. Coach Fulmer had a perfect game plan that day. We beat them 10-6. Coach Fulmer called that end-around with Derrick Tinsley to get into the end zone. Dustin Colquitt, who remains a very close friend – we spent some time out in Kansas – he must have punted for a million yards that day. At the end of the day, we punted the ball, perfectly executed left-footed spiral right on the boundary line, and the guy covered it, and the guy fumbled it, and we won the game. That was one of the most special wins I can remember. I remember being there for the Florida game in 2001 when we went down there and ran for a million yards. How long do you want me to keep going on this stuff? I mentioned yesterday, I’m really lucky. My first Third Saturday in October was at a place where it doesn’t get played anymore, at Legion Field in 1997. I’ve been really, really blessed. I’ve worked for three great universities. There are so few people in college athletics – we move around a lot – there’s very few people in college athletics that get to go back to one of those places. This is really special for our family.
PM: Last thing – the Lady Vols name change was a huge deal around here. A lot of people are passionate about it, didn’t like it. Do you have any thoughts on that, anything you might try to do there?
Currie: Right now I’m trying to get some reading glasses because I left them in the car before I left. I understand how important and passionate people are about the Lady Vols. Tennessee is a leader in women’s athletics and is really the leader in women’s athletics. There are literally millions of young women and girls around the country who have been exposed to athletics and have had athletic opportunities because of the leadership role Tennessee took. So, we’ll get down the road a little bit and start looking at different things around the university and the department, be a good listener, and see where we go.