The University of Tennessee finally announced the hiring of a new athletic director on Tuesday. John Currie, who was the AD at Kansas State and previously worked for Tennessee’s administration from 1997-2009, was announced as Tennessee’s new AD on the last day of February.
Currie’s hire was met with wildly different opinions from media and fans across the country, but none of those opinions change the facts: Currie has several challenges facing him in every single sport.
Almost all of Tennessee’s major athletic programs have been in some sort of rut over the last decade. Tennessee hasn’t won a national title in any of its major sports (football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, and softball) since 2008 when the Lady Vols won their eighth title under Pat Summitt.
Since then, however, only one of Tennessee’s major sports teams have even come somewhat close to winning a title.
The Vols’ biggest sport, football, is much healthier than the last time Tennessee had to hire an AD. When Tennessee hired Dave Hart in September of 2011, the football program was about to suffer through the last two years of the Derek Dooley era and had just gone through the Lane Kiffin fiasco. Football is healthier now, but it’s still not at the level most fans want it to be.
Tennessee had five losing seasons in six years from 2008-2013, but now the team has managed back-to-back 9-4 records and have won three consecutive bowl games. The Vols have yet to win the SEC East at any point in the last few years despite being undeniable favorites this season. Some Vol fans think if Butch Jones doesn’t win the East again this season, his job should be in jeopardy. Time will tell if Currie shares that sentiment should that indeed happen.
Men’s basketball, however, is in a much worse situation than it was several years ago.
Back in 2008, Bruce Pearl had Tennessee basketball running at a previously unheard of pace. The Vols reached No. 1 in the polls for the first time in school history, and the Vols made the program’s first Elite Eight in school history just a couple years later. But just a year after that, Pearl was let go after NCAA investigations revealed he had lied to the NCAA about some of his recruiting tactics.
Since Pearl was let go, Tennessee basketball has been floundering since.
The Vols made the NCAA Tournament all six years of Pearl’s tenure, but they have only made it to the tournament once in the six years since (assuming they don’t make it this season). Tennessee basketball has gone 94-76 since Pearl’s reign (not counting this season) and has had three different head coaches in that time. Rick Barnes does appear to finally be turning things around with the program, but it likely will still be another season before Tennessee finally gets back to the NCAA Tournament.
Lady Vols basketball is still making the tournament every season and has made it to the Elite Eight in three of the last four seasons under Holly Warlick and have made it that far in five of the last six overall seasons. But expectations for women’s basketball at Tennessee are higher than any other sport, and simply making it to the Elite Eight isn’t good enough for most fans.
The Lady Vols have made it to the Final Four 18 times since 1982. But the Lady Vols haven’t made it that far in the tournament since 2008 when they won their last title. That’s currently the longest Final Four drought in program history.
Women’s basketball is far from the most woeful athletic program at Tennessee. But when compared to the heights they’ve risen to in the past, they are under-performing. And with Holly Warlick’s contract running out in a couple years, it will be interesting to see how Currie handles the situation should the Lady Vols fail to get back to where they once were.
Tennessee baseball, however, is arguably the sport in the worst position right now among Tennessee’s major athletics. Under Rod Delmonico, the Vols won several SEC titles and even made it to the College World Series three times (1995, 2001, 2005). But since Tennessee parted ways with Delmonico after the 2007 season, they’ve nearly dropped off the map.
In the nine full seasons since Delmonico last headed up Tennessee’s baseball season, the Vols have failed to finish higher than fifth in the SEC East a single time. The Vols have missed the SEC Tournament several times and have bowed out early whenever they have made it there.
Dave Serrano is in the final year of current contract, and it’s highly likely that if he can’t make significant progress this season, Currie’s first new hire as Tennessee’s AD will be in baseball.
The Vols’ softball team is the only major athletic program at Tennessee that is truly healthy and competing consistently at a high level. The softball team has made it to the College World Series four times since 2008 and finished as the national runner-up in 2013. The softball team has yet to win a title, but they’ve consistently played at a much higher level than every other Tennessee athletics program over the last decade.
That’s the situation John Currie inherits at Tennessee. The Vols haven’t won a title in any major sport in nearly a decade, and only two of their five major programs are even competing with the best teams in their respective sport.
Many will only judge Currie on how he handles football. If he can get football fully healthy again, many won’t care what else Currie does as AD. But being an athletic director is more than just taking care of one program, and Currie has many challenges facing him across the board at Tennessee.