Chris Walker played for three head football coaches during his time on the defensive line at the University of Tennessee. Signed by Phillip Fulmer, he spent his junior year with Lane Kiffin after Fulmer was fired and a final season with Derek Dooley when Kiffin left for Southern Cal after just one season in Big Orange Country.
So few former Volunteers better appreciate how desperately Tennessee needed to find a new athletic director who already understood the inner workings of the Vols' athletic department than Walker, who's about to become the Fellowship of Christian Athletes director for the Knoxville campus after spending several years manning a similar post at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"I just know we needed to bring in somebody with Tennessee ties," Walker said before Tuesday night's FCA banquet as he discussed UT's hiring of current Kansas State AD and former UT associate AD John Currie.
"That was the most important thing. We needed to bring in someone who understands who we are."
Currie, who once finished second to Rick Hart for the UTC AD job, now will succeed Rick's dad, Dave, at UT.
And by work history alone, it's hard to imagine anyone with a better resume for how to oversee a nine-figure budget than Currie, who left the Vols for the Wildcats in 2009.facebook
For the fiscally responsible among you, Currie helped make K-State one of just two dozen schools nationally to operate in the black without any state tax or university tuition dollars or subsidies.
For the academically inclined among you, all Wildcats programs have carried multi-year Academic Progress Rates of .944, with football, men's and women's golf and men's and women's cross country at the top of the Big 12 in APR scores. Beyond that, one-half of the 450-plus athletes at KSU carried a 3.0 GPA or higher this past academic year.
Then there's fundraising, which could be viewed as the ultimate necessity of any successful program. Over the 45-year-old Currie's time at KSU, according to Tuesday's UT press release, he has raised more than $200 million in cash donations — which not only is more money than was raised in the 48 years before he arrived but also includes 27 private donations of $1 million or more.
Assuming he might have to find some extra cash to buy out football coach Butch Jones by the end of the year, that fundraising skill could come in quite handy.
That doesn't mean everyone will embrace this hire. While many UTC fans in this corner of the state can breathe easier knowing that Mocs AD David Blackburn will remain in the Scenic City for at least a year or two longer rather than returning to Big Orange Country after two decades of UT athletic department service, a lot of those folks also will feel bad for Blackburn that he wasn't able to land his dream job.
Then there are those who were pulling for Fulmer to get the gig. Returning to Tuesday night's FCA banquet at the Colonnade off Battlefield Parkway will tell anyone all that needs to be known about how bitterly disappointed the Hall of Fame coach was at being passed over for the Vols AD post by new UT chancellor Beverly Davenport.
Fulmer was supposed to address the media before it became known that Currie had been hired. Afterward, he canceled all interviews, his emotions probably too raw to risk saying something he might later regret.
Nor are jilted candidates Blackburn and Fulmer the only ones frustrated with UT bringing back Currie, who was an underling of former AD Mike Hamilton, who not only fired Fulmer and hired Kiffin but also struggled with appropriate discipline for basketball coach Bruce Pearl before later being forced to fire him. Then Hamilton further angered the fan base by hiring good-guy Cuonzo Martin, who was, in every way, the antithesis of Pearl, both in good and bad ways.
As one supposed Vols fan tweeted: "Currie very well could be a great AD, but 'Mike Hamilton's right-hand man' is not exactly what I want to see on a guy's resume."
On the other hand, highly respected ESPN sports business analyst Darren Rovell also issued a tweet regarding Currie, writing: "Poaching Currie is a huge move for Tennessee. One of the best in the business."
If Currie is to convince the Big Orange Nation that it really has poached one of the best in the business to lead it back to greatness in all sports, as was once its mantra in the 1960s and 1970s, it would appear he once more must make UT football a championship contender rather than a pretender.
This isn't to say Jones is already a dead man walking. It is to say that if Currie sees long-term potential in Jones, he needs to instruct his coach to quit talking about five-star hearts and champions of life until he starts winning the kind of championships the Vols haven't captured since 1998.
His official bosses, such as Davenport and the UT board of trustees, understandably may be impressed by balanced budgets and graduation rates, but those 102,000 Volniacs who are expected to fill Neyland Stadium on autumn Saturdays care only about the numbers on the scoreboard and whether the Big Orange has a higher number at game's end than the opponent.
Said Currie in Tuesday's press release: "As a (graduate school) graduate of the university, I know how much UT athletics means to the people in the state."
If he expects to be around for more than four or five years, Currie better also know how to make and keep those people happy.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
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