KNOXVILLE — Tennessee athletic director John Currie said Monday night that he believes supporting his football coaching staff and players as they prepare for this week's game "is the best thing I can do for our football program right now."
"I know folks are frustrated with the won-loss record," Currie said in an interview on the Vol Network's "Big Orange Hotline" radio program. "I am, too. Coach Jones is. We all are. I believe right now the most important thing to do is support our players. Those seniors have three more times running through that T. And I know there will be a lot of great Tennessee fans there supporting them Saturday night."
Fifth-year coach Butch Jones is under intense scrutiny as the Volunteers (3-5, 0-5 SEC) prepare to take on Southern Mississippi at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
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Currie spoke extensively on the "Big Orange Hotline" about his thoughts on the football program in the wake of Saturday night's 29-26 loss at Kentucky.
"Well my thoughts were the same as everyone else in Vol Nation, including coach Jones, and it was disappointing," Currie said. "Our players played so hard, though, for the whole game and never let up. You think about a guy like Kendal Vickers on the defensive line who is a senior in there for all those snaps. He's got three games left in Neyland Stadium. I know how hard he's going to play in each one of them. I know our fans are going to be there supporting our players."
Currie said he and Jones have built "a really strong relationship" and have worked to be supportive of each other. Currie began as athletic director on April 1, taking over for Dave Hart, who hired Jones in 2012. Currie served eight-plus years as the athletic director at Kansas State before he was hired at Tennessee.
"I know somebody said we were in there meeting yesterday," Currie said, referencing media reports that Currie and Jones met on Sunday. "Well we see each other about every Sunday. It's been one of my practices the nine years I've been an athletic director. I always try to go in the building on Sunday, win or lose. Because win or lose, our staff puts a tremendous amount of energy in. Just like we talk about, you've got to put that game behind you because you've got to get ready for the next game. We've got one coming up in six nights."
If Currie decides the football program needs a change, it will be a new venture for him. Currie never hired or fired a football coach during more than eight years of work as the athletic director at Kansas State. Coaching legend Bill Snyder began his second tenure with the Wildcats several months before Currie was hired in 2009. Snyder, 78, is still the coach.
Outside of football, Currie has hired his share of coaches. Shortly after taking the Tennessee job, he parted ways with the men's tennis coach and the baseball coach and hired replacements.
An effort among some fans to boycott Saturday night's 7:30 game has surfaced on social media.
"The bottom line is one of the reasons I came back here to the University of Tennessee is this is a national program with a national following and incredibly passionate and fervent fans," Currie said. "That knife cuts both ways, right? You're excited when you win and you're disappointed and angry when you lose. It's the same for the staff and the AD and the players, too. The things we've got to continue to do each day despite the result of the night before or whatever is we've got work to do the next day...That's what professionals do."
Jones' contract runs through the 2020 season. A copy of it shows he would be owed $2.5 million for each year remaining on his deal, if fired. Tennessee would owe him roughly $8 million if he were fired this week. But if Jones were to get another coaching job elsewhere after being fired, Tennessee's financial obligation to him would be decreased "dollar-for-dollar" by his new income, according to his contract.
Attendance may also be a factor in how long Jones is allowed to continue coaching. An announced crowd of 98,104 attended Tennessee's most recent home game, a 15-9 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 14. Neyland Stadium's capacity is 102,455.
"As a professional athletics director, I remember that I have a responsibility to support our coaches and our staff, to support our student-athletes. Our student athletes got up and went to class today and were in there getting their ankles taped before practice just like every single day. You've got to keep moving forward. At the same time, you've got to remember that the immediate time, this game, is the most important game. Every next game is the most important game. At the same time, you've got to make sure too that you've thought about long-term. We're working on improvements to Neyland Stadium and are excited about getting ready to break ground on a golf practice facility. A lot of things are going on."
Currie shared a personal anecdote during his radio interview when he noted that his late father was a surgeon
"The surgeon's creed," Currie said, "is there's no problem you can't make worse by operating."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.