Most Vol fans have tried to forget the events that transpired at the end of the 2017 football season. Not only was the season itself the worst in program history, but the search for a new head coach after the firing of Butch Jones was spiraling into disaster under the supervision of Athletics Director John Currie.
But remember back for a moment what happened in late November.
Currie had just struck out on another offer to NC State head coach Dave Doeren, and he had to refocus his efforts once again. Currie allegedly went off the radar and flew himself over to the west coast and contacted Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
Chancellor Beverly Davenport didn’t sign off on the move, and once she and the rest of the powers at UT found out about Currie’s decisions, they ordered him to return to Knoxville. On Friday morning, December 1, 2017, Currie was put on administrative leave and would eventually be fired. Former head football coach Phillip Fulmer was named AD, and he hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to serve as head coach within a week.
Vol fans have heard multiple stories about how all of that transpired, but one of the main players in that saga gave his side of the tale on Wednesday.
Mike Leach was a guest on The Paul Finebaum Show on Wednesday afternoon, and Finebaum asked Leach about his interview with Currie for the opening at Tennessee back in 2017. According to Leach, he was happy at Washington State, and the meeting didn’t really go anywhere.
“Well, it really didn’t end up anywhere because I’m very happy here at Washington State,” Leach explained to Finebaum. “They said, ‘Well, will you be willing to talk?’ I said, ‘Sure. I’ll talk. I’m in L.A. recruiting.’
“After some dialogue — because I wasn’t going to meet somewhere, this whole fly somewhere and meet somewhere, I wasn’t going to do that because, again, I was happy where I was at. But I said, ‘I’m in L.A. Come out here and I’m happy to talk to you.’ Which we did. Shortly after that, there was a coup d’etat at the University of Tennessee.”
Leach goes on to liken the events of that winter to a Shakespearean play, describing the powers at be at the University of Tennessee as bloodthirsty tyrants who “offed” all the major players in the search.
“It was a coup d’etat. You can call it what you want, and I hope I don’t hurt anybody’s feelings at Tennessee, but it’s a fact,” Leach stated. “It was like something out of Shakespeare. All the sudden, they call home the AD, and en route, they off him. Then the king, or the chancellor, who orders offing the AD because the guards were around him demanding that it be done in order to secure a position. Shortly after that, they off the president. Then the off the very chancellor who set it all in motion, or allegedly.
“There was a whole power shift. Anyway, hopefully the ground for the good people at Tennessee is more stable now.”
Leach remained at Washington State for 2018 and helped lead the Cougars to an 11-2 record, the most wins in a single season in school history. The Cougars rose to as high as No. 7 in the AP Poll and finished at No. 10 at the end of the season, their first top-10 finish in the AP Poll since 2002.
Tennessee, meanwhile, went 5-7 in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as head coach.
The recollection of events by Leach, while slightly off, isn’t exactly inaccurate. Currie was “offed” as Leach put it, and then Beverly Davenport was eventually fired on May 2nd of 2018. President Joe DiPietro wasn’t fired like Currie and Davenport. He, instead, retired from his post and was replaced by interim president Randy Boyd in September of this past year.
Vol fans are left to wonder how Leach would’ve worked out at Tennessee had things progressed further with him and the university. But as Leach put it, UT is at least on more stable ground now, and both Fulmer and Pruitt seem to be guiding Tennessee’s football program toward calmer waters.