Difference of opinion

Marvin West

In comparison to recent athletics directors, John Currie may be cause for celebration. He brings an actual track record. He is relatively modern. He uses the word “cool.” He has personality and doesn’t do sun lamps or hair dye.

Now that the music has stopped and noise has subsided, let us seek what passes for the truth. What we have here is a guarded difference of opinion about the new man at Tennessee. There is high praise, mostly from far-away places. There are biting local undertones but they do not sound lethal.

Those who guided Dr. Beverly Davenport in her discovery and knee-jerk choice of Currie identified the precise qualities she sought:

An established leader at a so-so Power 5 school who would see UT as a full step up.

A man of integrity, yea, with respect for NCAA rules.

A smart salesman (comfortable with other millionaires, keen at remembering names, polished at smiling and shaking hands). John demonstrated several skills in negotiating a very favorable bonus contract for himself.

A builder and maybe even a visionary with proper appreciation for great athletes who turn all the wheels. Favoring athletes and academics is very popular. It discourages lawsuits about misuse and abuse.

All that information and more was available in the official Currie biography or in glowing reports of his success at Kansas State.

Some who actually know John, who worked with him in his previous years in Knoxville, have reservations. Some in Manhattan claim the community is pleased that he is gone.

One UT employee, before and after Currie, is “flabbergasted” by the selection. John was supposedly No. 2 in being least liked. Ask later who was No. 1. After that, ask if being liked is important to being the boss.

Another former associate said Currie tried to change the entire culture to reflect the Atlantic Coast Conference image, specifically Wake Forest, from whence he came. As for him morphing into a Tennessee guy, no way.

“Not sure he could find Ayres Hall with a campus map.”

A third said, being charitable, that John was a bully. There were other caustic words.

John has been called Mike Hamilton 2.0, much better at raising and spending money than identifying, hiring and keeping winning coaches. He was Hamilton’s right-hand man in the knockout of Phillip Fulmer the week of the Wyoming game in 2008.

Currie is also linked to Lane Kiffin. Ouch.

One sincere critic wonders if Donna Thomas, prominent on the search committee, provided that information to Dr. Davenport.

John is perceived as a micromanager. That is code for butting into subordinates’ business. There was a zinger from a support person: “John decided how many dill pickle slices should be in box lunches.”

Go light on some of this stuff, all anonymous talk radio and coffee-break chatter, presented as certified facts, but don’t quote me. OK to attribute good stuff – intelligent, energetic, tenacious, passionate.

Keep in mind that Tennessee recollections are eight or more years old. We don’t know how maturity and additional experience may have changed Currie. K-State inside talk sounds suspiciously similar but it could be prejudiced.

Certain Vol lettermen, some outspoken, were wounded by the selection process. They think Fulmer was used as window dressing. They fear David Blackburn may never be the same. Fans and media had him believing he was a logical choice.

Most who really wanted a genuine Vol for Life have elected to take a deep breath and go on living. We can still marvel at Dr. Davenport’s “non-negotiable” criteria since she came to UT without ever being chancellor at a Power 5 school.

Of all the things John Currie is or isn’t, has or hasn’t done, something he said at the welcome party got my attention: “The University of Tennessee can and should be the very best athletic program in the country.”

Terrific idea. Let’s go for it. No more basketball collapses, no more football losses to Vanderbilt, never again last in SEC track and field, contenders in everything, national champs in several sports.

If I were coaching, that would make me nervous.

(Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is westwest6@netzero.com)

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