New athletic director John Currie wants to return Tennessee sports to 'top of the mountain'

New athletic director John Currie wants to return Tennessee sports to 'top of the mountain'

March 15th, 2017 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

In this Thursday, March 2, 2017 file photo, New University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie and new University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport speak on stage during a ceremony introducing Currie in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. After giving away about 60 orange ties when he left Tennessee in 2009, new Volunteers athletic director John Currie must rebuild his wardrobe now that he's back. But he says the lesson he learned during his time away from Knoxville as Kansas State's athletic director should help him quite a bit in his new job. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, File)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — New athletic director John Currie's five-year deal with Tennessee includes bonuses for competitive success based on where the Volunteers finish in the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics standings.

The minimum bonus on the escalating incentive scale is $90,000 for a top-40 finish in the Division I Learfield Directors' Cup all-sport rankings.

Tennessee was tied for 113th nationally in the most recent rankings released upon the completion of all fall sports — another update is scheduled for next week — so there's work to do in that regard.

At his introduction earlier this month Currie made it clear he wants Tennessee winning and pursuing the conference and national championships, and he'll be judged on how many trophies and titles the Vols win under his watch. There's so much that goes into being an excellent athletic director, though, that winning won't be the only factor used to evaluate Currie after he officially assumes his post next month.

Whether it's nailing pivotal coaching hires, strong fundraising or top-notch facility upgrades, there are many boxes an AD has to hit, but Currie believes one in particular defines what makes a good AD.

"Ultimately, with all this noise about money and about buildings and about conferences and television and all this stuff," he said last week, "the thing that an athletics director always has to keep in my mind is the welfare and well-being and safety and experience of the student-athletes.

"And it is really easy for people to forget that when they're talking about different things or whatever. These are young people who have chosen our school, whose families and people that raised them have entrusted to us, and we always have to be focused on that.

"We can't ever lose sight of that, and in a lot of ways I think athletics directors have a special role in that, because in all the stuff that swirls around us, that's still the most important thing we have to be focused on."

Currie firmly believes accomplishing that objective paved the way for the success he had in nearly eight years at Kansas State after leaving Tennessee, where he handled multiple athletic department roles, in 2009.

He assembled what he considered a "great team" around him and adopted Wildcats football coach Bill Snyder's principle of no self-limitations.

Under Currie, Kansas State's athletic budget increased dramatically and the department operated in the black while implementing $210 million in facility upgrades.

He's proud of the "across the board" success on the field and courts and other arenas of performance. During the 2012-13 season, Kansas State won or shared Big 12 Conference titles in football, men's basketball and baseball.

In Snyder's second stint, which began months before Currie came onboard, Kansas State has been one of the most consistent winners in college football, and men's basketball coach Bruce Weber, whom Currie hired in 2012, this season narrowly got the Wildcats into the NCAA tournament for the third time in his five seasons.

Kansas State is hosting the first and second rounds of the women's NCAA basketball tournament just months after doing the same for the NCAA volleyball tournament.

Currie believes he raised the profile of Kansas State athletics.

"We raised the expectation level," he said. "When people come to Manhattan, Kansas, and see the Vanier Football Complex, gosh darn it, that looks as good as anybody's in the country. Maybe that wasn't expected at Kansas State.

"It's been really fun," he added, "to be part of a place where we got so much done, we operated very efficiently and we kept student-athlete welfare at the forefront and really improved the experience for all of our student-athletes."

Currie hopes to produce the same success at Tennessee, where he's seen firsthand the heights the Vols can reach.

His first order of business, though, is ensuring the landscape is in place with greater unity and less of the division that has hampered Tennessee in the past.

"We're going to be very intentional about being transparent and open and getting around and being accessible, and I think that's across the board," Currie said. "For Tennessee to be where Tennessee can be, which is at the top of the mountain, and where Tennessee has been in its past, we've all got to be rowing in the same direction.

"That takes times and that takes listening and being a good listener and continuing to celebrate all that has made Tennessee great and all that can put Tennessee back into the national leadership role it should be."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.


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