John Currie is one of three candidates to become Maryland’s next athletic director. He’s up against interim Maryland AD Damon Evans and Temple AD Patrick Kraft for the job.
Currie has a story unlike any you’ll find in an athletic director candidate. And, uh, not in a good way.
He served as athletic director at Kansas State from 2009 to February 2017, at which point he assumed that position at Tennessee, where he’d earned his master’s degree and held various athletic department positions. In December 2017, Currie was fired.
What happened in between was the most bizarre coaching search you’ve ever seen. You probably heard about how he tried to hire Greg Schiano, then had to reverse course and take the job off the table after incredible fan backlash. But it didn’t end there. After fake flirtations with Jon Gruden and real flirtations with so many different coaches, including Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren and Mike Leach, the school decided to move on from Currie after just nine months.
This kind of public failure is likely the only reason you have heard of John Currie. Had he decided to hire anyone other than Greg Schiano and finished a deal in generally quiet fashion, Currie stays at Tennessee and generally out of any national headlines. It’s impossible to mention his name without addressing all of that.
But Maryland is aware of the same things we are. So what’s the argument for hiring him at a Power 5 level again?
Currie was at Tennessee for all of nine months. That’s almost all negative, so for this exercise it’s more useful to look at his tenure at Kansas State. That’s likely what Maryland is doing.
For any and all failings in other areas, Currie appears to be a prolific fundraiser.
This is a check for Temple AD Patrick Kraft as well, but Currie has the advantage of raising money for longer periods of time. From the Tennessee release announcing his hiring:
K-State’s fundraising efforts have been completely overhauled under Currie’s leadership, with more than $200 million in cash contributions raised for athletics, more money over that period than it had in the previous 48 years combined. K-State donors stepped up with 27 private gifts in excess of $1 million since fall 2009, while grassroots Ahearn Fund membership reached all 50 states. The department operated with a budget surplus in each of the last seven years, allowing for annual investments and budget growth from $44 million to $73 million. K-State’s $46 million in cash contributions raised in the 2014 fiscal year almost quadrupled the annual total prior to his arrival and was the third-highest nationally that year behind only Texas A&M and Michigan.
He can bring in cash by the boatload, and once that cash gets in, Currie seems adept at distributing it. Kansas State was in debt when he got there in 2009, and he righted the ship:
During his eight years, Currie boosted fundraising to new heights and transformed the appearance of K-State’s athletic facilities. The Wildcats built $210 million worth of new facilities. Most notably, they spent more than $100 million worth of renovations into Snyder Family Stadium in the form of the West Stadium Center and the Vanier Football Complex. The additions gave K-State players a state-of-the-art facility to train and work between games, and fans a lavish place to watch games.
K-State also built a basketball training facility during Currie’s time, as well as a new rowing center and a tennis stadium.
The Wildcats had their fair share of wins under Currie, as well. No more so than in 2012-13, when the Wildcats claimed Big 12 championships in baseball, men’s basketball and football.
Okay. Aside from Tennessee, are there any other things we should be concerned about with Currie?
Basketball coach Frank Martin left Kansas State in 2012 for South Carolina, a school that had not been to the NCAA Tournament in the previous decade, ostensibly because his relationship with Currie was beyond repair. Over on the football side, Currie reportedly did not have the best relationship with K-State legend Bill Snyder, and reportedly tried to usher him out of the school by hiring a head-coach-in-waiting, a plan that was nixed before it was ever put into place.
In both cases, Currie appeared to have bad blood with successful coaches. That’s certainly a bad sign. He brought in Bruce Weber to coach the men’s basketball team, a move that seems to have worked okay, though fans aren’t always thrilled with it. Snyder’s situation is complicated, and given Snyder’s insistence that his son Sean take over for him, it’s possible there was going to be no good conclusion to it. Plus, he’s reportedly at least good at networking with-up-and-coming coaches. This is all to say that if you’re looking for positive spin on a situation that doesn’t look super awesome, it’s definitely possible to find.
And Currie’s K-State programs were generally without scandal. The school did not appear to have any scandals involving sexual assault or NCAA violations during his tenure there.
It’s also worth mentioning that Tennessee wasn’t exactly the perfect environment for any athletic director.
This isn’t meant to be an excuse for Currie’s tenure at Rocky Top. But Tennessee seems like a hard place succeed. The chancellor who hired Currie has since been fired, and newly-hired AD Phil Fulmer’s quick ascension to athletic director raised some eybrows.
Sources: John Currie was prepared to hire Mike Leach but university officials wouldn’t allow him to do so. Phillip Fulmer has been sabotaging search process in hopes to become Tennessee’s AD— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 1, 2017
Those things don’t erase Currie’s role in leading that bizarre coaching search, but they do provide a prism through which, if you squint, you could cut him at least a little bit of slack.
I will give you one better: Over the last decade, Tennessee has had 16 different presidents/chancellors/athletic directors/head football coaches. https://t.co/CF8yhSu4Js— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) April 25, 2018
So: Currie seems to be an excellent fundraiser, while his coaching searches and relationships with coaches he didn’t hire raise suspicion.
But if your thought process is “I don’t care if he was good at other stuff, Maryland should not hire the guy who presided over perhaps the most disastrous coaching search ever,” that’s an understandable stance to take.