After the University of Tennessee and former Athletics Director John Currie agreed to a $2.5 million settlement on the night of Thursday, March 22nd, more information began to surface about Currie’s final days as UT’s AD.
And boy, is there a lot of information.
Texts, emails, and direct messages from Twitter both from and to Currie were all made public on Thursday night, and all that information details what was a frantic and frankly insane last week or so of the John Currie era of Tennessee athletics.
Strap in, everyone. You’re in for quite the ride.
How It All Started
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Or at least as close to the beginning as possible.
Remember when Butch Jones was first fired and hope and optimism about the hiring of the next head coach were through the roof? And remember when all the “Grumors” were alive and well? That’s where we’ll start this journey.
Vol fans weren’t the only ones looking for any truth to the rumors about Jon Gruden becoming the Vols’ next head football coach. Apparently so were former players, and former Vol quarterback Josh Dobbs reached out to Currie about the Grumors
“Good evening Mr. Currie. Sooo are the rumors true?” Dobbs texted to Currie in the first few days of the search for UT’s next head coach.
“Which rumors?” Currie replied.
“A lot of buzz around Coach Gruden. Wasnt sure if it is legit or heresay,” Dobbs stated.
“Geez even you?” Currie replied.
“Hahaha what’s that supposed to mean?!” said Dobbs.
Currie would never reply back to Dobbs after that. And it became apparent as the days, weeks, and months went on that Gruden was never a serious candidate in the slightest for Tennessee’s vacancy.
On November 25th, the night after Tennessee’s loss to Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium, Currie sent a text to UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport that said, “I’m sorry our team is so bad. We will get better.”
Davenport replied with: “We certainly will. I’m glad this season is over. Not very fun for our first year.”
But before any of truly crazy things happened (i.e. the Greg Schiano fiasco), Currie had to deal with more rumors than just Jon Gruden.
Reports floated around that Tennessee had offered former Oregon and former NFL head coach Chip Kelly a deal to be the Vols’ next head coach. But according to a conversation between Currie and Davenport, that was never true.
Currie called the report insisting that Tennessee had offered Kelly “a complete fabrication planted by (Kelly’s) agent (Trace Armstrong) to incite competition w (sic) other schools & drive up his price and perceived desirability.”
Currie would follow that up with a message to Davenport saying: “As we head into the weekend the rumors & crazy speculation etc. will pick up as people throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks. As I told media and our team and staff unless they hear it from me don’t believe it.”
The Schiano Disaster
The decision to try and hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is one that will forever puzzle and enrage Vol fans. And, interestingly enough, it all started in a Waffle House.
Currie had been in contact with both Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and Schiano about Tennessee’s vacancy, and he messaged Davenport from a Waffle House that he had a deal in place. At the time, he didn’t specify if it was with Schiano or Mullen, though.
“Have a tentative deal in place awaiting word from you/Prez,” Currie said to Davenport. “Will be up early. Call whenever. Thank you.”
Later that morning at around 7 AM, Currie began frantically trying to contact UT President Joe DiPietro. He sent “any word” to Davenport about DiPietro, and Davenport replied that the President wanted to talk sometime after 10 AM. Currie followed that up with “any word” again, and Davenport claimed she could not get DiPietro to respond. Currie continued to plead with Davenport to get any information from DiPietro until finally Davenport was able to glean that DiPietro was attending mass.
“Good. Schiano is a devout Catholic,” Currie replied.
Once reports began to filter out about Schiano being the likely candidate to be Tennessee’s next head coach, social media began to blow up over the potential hire. Vol fans were outraged that someone tied to the Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State was up for consideration for Tennessee’s head coaching position.
And both Currie and Davenport heard the noise.
Davenport wrote: “Social Media is beyond brutal.”
Currie replied: “Working on it.”
Davenport: “Please call me”
Currie didn’t just rely on internal voices and their own PR department to try and quiet the noise, however. He reached out to national writers as well.
Currie sent out a plea to USA Today Sports writer Dan Wolken to try and help him control the narrative around the hire.
That text where an AD calls diehard UT supporters wacko and seeks the help of a national sports writer to help with a positive narrative. pic.twitter.com/puy0HczLdD
— Joel Barker (@joelabarker) March 23, 2018
Schiano Sunday, as Vol fans will remember, ended poorly for Schiano and Currie. Tennessee ultimately didn’t sign Schiano to a deal, and they avoided dire legal troubles because there weren’t enough signatures on the Memorandum of Understanding to make it legally binding. The “wackos” helped silence the deal and forced Currie to go in a different direction.
Currie released a statement the day after Schiano Sunday claiming that Schiano had been properly vetted and that he was going back on the trail to find a head coach.
In hindsight, Dan Wolken’s piece chastising Vol fans for their outrage over Schiano has not aged well given his involvement in the process.
The Search Continued
After the massive failure to bring in Schiano, Currie moved quickly to other candidates on his list. And first up was Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State.
Currie had been in contact with Gundy, and after the events on Sunday with Schiano, Gundy reached out to Currie.
“I adjusted my schedule for today after I heard the news yesterday,” Gunday said. “I can shake loose in Dallas tomorrow.”
On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 28th, Currie said to Gundy that he was “standing by” for him. He sent Gundy’s attorney an MOU to look over and expressed how Phillip Fulmer, then just a consultant/assistant within the department, was “fired up” after speaking with him about Gundy.
But the hiring of Gundy was never to happen.
Later that night at around 9 PM, Currie contacted Jordan Bazant, the agent representing N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren, and said “Gundy is (out).” Bazant, who had been in contact with Currie previously, responded, “Lets get this done.”
Currie would fly out to Raleigh, NC that Tuesday night and ended up meeting with Doeren on Wednesday. Strangely enough, it was shortly before this happened that information began to drop that Currie was in talks with Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm about becoming the head coach. But there aren’t any discussions between Currie and Brohm or his agent in any of the released documents.
After Currie met with Doeren on Wednesday, he apparently didn’t think the meeting went well. He would express in communications afterwards that he felt he needed a backup plan in case Doeren didn’t accept his proposal, and that thought process led to what ultimately did him in as Tennessee’s AD.
At 3:52 AM Thursday morning, November 30th, Currie sent out a text to Washington State head coach Mike Leach. “Coach – Currie here. You available for a call?”
Leach responded immediately and called Currie shortly after.
Later that morning, Bazant, Doeren’s agent, messaged Currie and said that Doeren “is fired up.” After Currie didn’t respond to him, Bazant messaged later on, “really need to hear from you.”
The two never messaged again.
What happened next was the final nail in the coffin for Currie.
Currie, in a panic apparently, went on a flight from Raleigh out to meet with Leach. Only he didn’t tell Davenport or anyone on the Board of Trustees about his decision to fly out and meet with Leach. Currie went off the grid for six hours, and when he finally landed he was flooded with texts concerned about where he had gone.
“Have we confirmed that John is safe?” Raja Jubran, vice chairman of UT’s Board of Trustees, asked.
“Lots of people worried about your whereabouts,” Reid Sigmon, Currie’s executive associate AD, texted.
Currie finally replied, “I’m fine,” before adding, “I’m still alive.”
Currie would go on to add that “(Leach) wants the job but I have not offered or discussed terms with him. He has to leave for a visit at 2 (Pacific Time). Can someone please call me back?”
Nobody had been in contact with Currie for a solid 45 minutes, and he had no new information to give Leach at the time.
Late that night, to an unknown recipient, Currie texted that “Today is going to be epic one way or another.”
And boy, was he right.
Chancellor Davenport was not pleased with Currie’s doings out in California. And she made that known in a message to Currie Thursday night.
“I trust you are on your way back to Knoxville as I requested in my text message this afternoon,” Davenport wrote to Currie Thursday night. “This morning, we tried for six hours to contact you about the state of the search. After finally connecting, you informed me that you were in California heading into a meeting with Mike Leach. This was the first I had heard of this meeting. Because of the confusion from earlier in the day with the other candidate (Doeren), I asked you not to pursue any discussions about employment with any additional candidates.”
Currie would later pen this email to Davenport and the rest of Tennessee’s decision-makers:
I have been trying to call for 45 minutes to discuss situation but I understand from the text that I have been instructed to end my visit with Coach Leach and return to Knoxville. I am not sure I can get a flight tonight but I will head to the airport as soon as I talk to [him] and let him know.
Although I have not offered the job of discussed terms with him, he told me that he would take the job if offered. Matthew (Scoggins) know how to follow up with his agent Gary O’Hagan. He would make an excellent choice.
I am very sorry for the stress I caused by the Wifi outage on the Delta flight. I had every intention of being able to communicate and that we could still get (Dave Doeren) deal done while I was traveling but without an immediate answer, the negative social media assaults against him and and the media news of their negotiating with NCSU, I was concerned that I needed to be in position to meet with other candidate including Coach Leach who’s (sic) was in LA recruiting. This presented an opportunity for a quick meeting, as there are direct flights from RDU.
I apologize to all involved.
Currie then scheduled a flight to take him back to Knoxville for a meeting with Davenport in the morning. That meeting, as we all know, ended with Currie getting suspended from his duties as Tennessee’s AD.
Currie and Leach didn’t communicate for several hours until Leach messaged Currie shortly after midnight on Friday, December 1st: “It was great to meet and talk to you. You’re a good man and I hope you come out of this ok and we can work together.”
While Currie was on that flight back to Knoxville, Leach sent another correspondence to Currie, saying, “Let me know if I can ever do anything for you. I truly wish I had gathered you up and we had the first of many beers together. I wish you and your family the best.”
Currie was ultimately suspended, and Leach remained at Washington State and got an extension and raise. Currie never replied to Leach, but Matthew Scoggins, General Counsel for UT, reached out to Gary O’Hagan, Leach’s agent, to inform him of the situation.
“This is Matthew Scoggins at UT. Sorry I’ve been in meeting and still am,” Scoggins wrote to O’Hagan. “We are going to take a couple of days and regroup on our search. It has nothing to do with Coach Leach. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.”
O’Hagan didn’t hold any negativity towards Currie or UT, though. “Thanks Matt, the people we worked with the past two days who are associated with the Vols search were professional and thorough,” O’Hagan wrote. “We negotiated earnestly and in good faith and feel we had reached and agreed to a deal. We hope that UT sees the tremendous value in having Mike Leach as their football coach. He is disciplined and innovate, attributes which has led to great success on the field and in the classroom.”
Ultimately, Tennessee didn’t go with Leach. Later that day, Phillip Fulmer was named the replacement for Currie as AD, and Fulmer ended up hiring Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as head coach on December 7th.
And after nearly a month, Tennessee finally had a head coach again. But not before one of the craziest stories in all of college football took place.
Who Else Was Interested?
Though communication with Jeff Brohm doesn’t appear to have happened, there were several other coaches who were interested in Tennessee’s head coaching position that Currie ultimately passed on or took other jobs.
I mentioned Mullen earlier in this piece, and there seemed to be some serious smoke there.
Currie first contacted Clint Dowdle, who works for agency CAA Sports and represented Mullen. Dowdle told Currie on the night of November 22nd that Mullen wanted to schedule a time to talk to Currie the Friday morning after Mississippi State’s regular season finale against Ole Miss on Thanksgiving.
The two apparently met, and just before noon on Saturday, November 25th, Mullen messaged Currie: “Good luck today. Talked with Peyton (Manning) last night. Look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
According to the messages, Currie informed Dowdle to send Mullen an MOU. Both Currie and Dowdle appeared to have a meeting scheduled for 11 AM on Sunday, November 26th. Currie sent a message to Mullen reading, “So tomorrow work?” late on November 25th. But that text went unanswered, and Mullen ultimately passed on Tennessee for the Florida job.
Tennessee interim head coach Brady Hoke threw his name into the hat as well with a text in all caps saying: “JOHN I HOPE YOU DO KNOW I WOULD LIKE TO BE YOUR HEAD FOOTBALL COACH I DO KNOW THE ENVIRONMENT WE LIVE IN AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE AT TENNESSEE!”
Joan Cronan, who used to be the women’s Athletics Director at UT before the departments were consolidated into one unit, reached out to Currie about Les Miles expressing interest in the job.
“Just for brainstorming would a mature Phillip (Fulmer) or Les (Miles) coupled with Tee (Martin) as OC & throw in KEVIN Steele as DC & you also have (John) Chavis. I have no idea how personalities go together. Still trust YOU!!!!” she wrote in a message to Currie.
Another coach who was interested in the position was Rich Bisaccia. He was the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys at the time and had also been an assistant at South Carolina, Clemson, and Ole Miss in college. Bisaccia reached out to Tyler Johnson, Tennessee’s associate athletics director for business and internal operations, many times to express his interest.
When Johnson first notified Currie of Bisaccia’s interest on November 28th, Currie replied, “Who’s he?”
Johnson told Currie that former Vols Charles Davis and Jason Witten might reach out to Currie about Bisaccia as well. Bisaccia was ultimately hired by Jon Gruden to join his staff at Oakland in the NFL.
The night before Currie met with Davenport and was suspended, Jack Reale, the agent who represents Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, sent a text to Currie. “Mr. Currie I represent Paul Johnson of Ga Tech. He has interest in your HC position. I can be reached at (redacted). Best Regards Jack Reale.”