Currie selected on split vote

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Newly designated University of Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie was not the unanimous choice of the six-member search committee, this writer has learned from sources who declined to be named. Peyton Manning and trustee Charlie Anderson voted for former coach Phil Fulmer, while Currie was the choice of the remaining four members. None are talking on the record.

The hire was a strong surprise. Manning did attend the Currie news conference Thursday in a show of unity.

Interestingly, Chancellor Beverly Davenport, who was not a committee member, participated in some of the closed interviews, which increased the number of women involved from one to two – but still there were no African-Americans. Davenport, who nominally named the committee, announced the list before she even arrived in Knoxville to become chancellor. She also flew to Kansas to interview Currie after interviewing Fulmer and perhaps others.

It is felt Davenport wanted someone who had spent a significant part of their career outside Tennessee. Currie meets that standard. When Currie last lived in Knoxville, he lived on Hillvale Turn and his family attended Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church. They were active in the community, but the majority of his life has been removed from Knoxville.

If Currie, who will become 46 on April 1, restores the Lady Vols name after his April arrival, it will go a long way to winning over people who have misgivings over this surprise choice. However, the people who in reality picked him may not allow him to do this. It remains to be seen whether he will have the freedom Dave Hart has had to do whatever he wanted as athletic director.

The search was trustee-driven and owned. Davenport was the conduit by which it all occurred, but her main role was to approve the choice from her employers (trustees). It will be interesting to see how she handles the search for a new provost and communications vice chancellor.

Meanwhile, the state Senate Education Committee has added $450,000 for an “intellectual diversity office,” which UT President Joe DiPietro is less than happy about. He had no clue it was coming. Davenport needs to start getting to know local lawmakers so she can be a player. Unfortunately, UT’s credibility is weak among lawmakers in Nashville, and Davenport has not been prompt in responding to inquiries.

Karl Dean, former Nashville mayor, has announced as a Democratic candidate for governor next year. If elected, he would be the third consecutive mayor to become governor, following Phil Bredesen of Nashville and Bill Haslam.

Interestingly, Dean declined to criticize Haslam and called him a “very good governor.” This contrasts with several GOP candidates seeking to replace Haslam who oppose Haslam’s gas tax proposal, helped to defeat his Insure Tennessee proposal or separated themselves from Haslam’s disavowal of Donald Trump in the recent presidential campaign.

It also contrasts with the state Democratic Party chair, who often criticizes Haslam.

Dean is already running a general election campaign (but he may face state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh in the primary). Appealing to Haslam Republicans, who may not be happy with the eventual GOP nominee, may be a bright strategy. The current GOP candidate most closely identified with Haslam is Knoxville’s Randy Boyd, former Economic and Community Development commissioner, who filed his campaign papers on Monday.

Kelsey Finch, former city director, is considering a race for city council to replace former mayor and council member Daniel Brown, who is term limited.

State Rep. Rick Staples turns 47 on March 12, and former Gov. Don Sundquist turns 81 on March 15.

Doug Harris, former school board chair, and his wife, Carla, are back after 3½ months circling the world and visiting over 24 countries. They especially liked Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

They were in Wellington, New Zealand, on the 10th floor of a building during a 7.8 earthquake, which was a challenging experience. They felt New Zealand was one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

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