Cobbservations: John Currie's coaching hires at Tennessee impressing in debut seasons

University of Tennessee athletic director, John Currie speaks during a press conference announcing the firing of head football coach, Butch Jones, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Say what you will about John Currie and his well-documented failure to hire a football coach at Tennessee, but Currie's hiring record doesn't look all bad at the moment.

The two coaches Currie did hire during his months as the athletic director in 2017 have produced impressive results in their first years on the job.

Men's tennis coach Chris Woodruff turned a program that was 3-21 against SEC competition the past two seasons into an 8-4 team against league foes this year.

Under Woodruff, the Vols are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. They play Saturday against UNC-Wilmington in the tournament's opening round.

Meanwhile, Tony Vitello has brought some life to Tennessee baseball by improving the team's results and by putting his personality on display during some colorful disputes with umpires and passionate, humorous media interviews.

Tennessee's players seem ready to go war for Vitello - and without him - as they had to do in Sunday's win over Kentucky because of Vitello's two-game suspension for prolonged arguing.

Whatever Vitello is selling, it seems to be working, both with his team and with recruits, as he and recruiting coordinator Josh Elander (who acted as the head coach for Sunday's game) have assembled Perfect Game's No. 6 recruiting class in the nation for the class of 2018.

Now, if they can just use that charm to convince athletic director Phillip Fulmer to hand over a blank check for renovations to Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Tennessee's last home series of the season is this weekend against Vanderbilt. Between Vitello's recent fiery antics, the chippy nature of some of Tennessee's earlier games against in-state foes and the stakes of this weekend, it ought to be one of the best series' at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in years.

The Vols have already assured themselves a winning record in home SEC games for the first time since 2005, and adding a couple more wins this weekend would be monumental for a few reasons.

Tennessee is clawing for one of the last slots in this month's 12-team SEC tournament. With six league games remaining, they are in 12th place at 10-14 in the league standings.

Tennessee is just one game behind the Commodores, Mississippi State and Kentucky in the standings, so a series victory would be huge for the the Vols heading into next weekend's final regular season at Missouri, which trails Tennessee by just a game.

Also, beating Vanderbilt - a program that has dominated the state's baseball scene for years - would be a nice way to cap a season with some in-state struggles.

If not for a pair of losses to ETSU and a loss to MTSU - both teams with RPI rankings of well over 100 - Tennessee might be receiving consideration for its first NCAA regional since 2005.

Nonetheless, making the SEC tournament would continue the momentum the Tennessee baseball program has generated under a hire made by Currie, whose legacy at Tennessee will forever be defined by the coaching hire he failed to make.

No matter how good the other two hires turn out to be.

David Cobb is the Tennessee athletics beat writer for the Times Free Press. He is stationed in Knoxville. Follow him @DavidWCobb on Twitter, or direct your emails to