Tennessee's firing of John Currie — whether he was sabotaged or not — takes Rocky Top to improbable new low
On Friday morning, Ole Miss was handed its NCAA punishment for 15 Level I violations.
The Rebels, who self-imposed a 1-year postseason ban, had another year of bowl-less play added to that, plus other substantial penalties. Long story short, the NCAA dropped the hammer on the Rebels in a way that we haven’t seen it do an SEC program in recent memory. They’ll face a steep uphill battle just to gain any sort relevancy in college football’s most brutal division. It was a day that will live in infamy in Oxford.
But somehow, it wasn’t even close to earning the superlative for “most embarrassing SEC football program” on Friday morning.
Of course, that title belonged to Tennessee, which stole all the national headlines when athletic director John Currie was fired after just 8 months on the job.
Shortly thereafter, reports surfaced that came after Tennessee administration rejected his choice of Mike Leach and that Phillip Fulmer was playing the role of saboteur.
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
That was after a week of disastrous … wait a minute. “Disastrous” doesn’t do the Vols’ week justice. Letting Florida beat you on a Hail Mary is “disastrous.” Watching fans protest your head coach hire and having a deal fall apart before your eyes isn’t just “disastrous.” Flying across the country and begging half a dozen coaches to come to Knoxville only to fail in humiliating fashion, is way beyond “disastrous.” It’s apocalyptic.
From the top down, this has been complete chaos. Perhaps we should’ve added up the pieces and seen this coming. If the reports are indeed true that Fulmer sabotaged Currie’s chances of succeeding in this search — his most important responsibility as an athletic director — then Tennessee fans have every right to be upset.
And no, I’m not talking about anything like the fake outrage they had over Greg Schiano’s “association” with the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
If Fulmer really did have it out for Currie because of the fact that he was part of the administration that fired him, then this was beyond spray-painting unproven accusations about a coaching candidate on a rock. This could’ve been 10 years in the making and it just took this current set of circumstances for this whole thing to shake out as it did.
We’re past the point of taking sides with Currie or Fulmer. Clearly, Tennessee’s administration already did that long ago. Either way, it doesn’t change the result.
The result of all of this turmoil is that Tennessee looks as incompetent as any school in America right now. Instead of talking about possibly the best weekend of conference championships we’ve ever had, we can’t stop talking about how in the world Tennessee put itself in such an awful position.
It seems like decades ago that Tennessee’s biggest problem was having a coach who fired off odd sayings and couldn’t win the SEC East. Butch Jones, of course, didn’t do himself any favors by failing to win a conference game this season. And while some might assume that Currie is the victim in all of this talk about Fulmer’s sabotaging ways, let’s not forget that Currie was the one who so desperately wanted to keep Jones in Knoxville well past his expiration date.
Maybe Currie was even more desperate to avoid a coaching search. Maybe he knew that he would have monumental hurdles to overcome and simply hiring someone — anyone — was going to take more legwork than we could’ve ever imagined.
None of that changes the situation that Tennessee is looking at. It has no athletic director, it has no head coach and it has an administration that looks like an absolute nightmare to work for. Oh, and who wants to play for Tennessee? You know, the school that’s been the nation-wide punchline from the moment its 4-win season ended.
It’s mind-boggling to think that a big-time program could look this awful in such a defining moment. Currie and Jimmy Haslam still thought that Schiano deserved the job before even talking to guys like Mike Gundy and Mike Leach. We mustn’t forget that.
We also must remember that while Tennessee was out shooting itself in the foot, SEC schools like Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss hired their next coaches without an ounce of the dysfunction that Tennessee displayed. If there was any real drama for those three schools outside of the Chip Kelly sweepstakes, we certainly didn’t hear about it.
Instead, we heard about everything at Tennessee. All week, I kept coming back to the same thought. The public isn’t supposed to know this much about a coaching search, especially one as awful as this. Clearly, someone wanted to get this information out there. If making Currie look horrendous at his job was the motive, that endeavor was successful.
This Vols coaching search has been full of clues from the beginning:
Jeff brohm: J
dave dOeren: O
laNe kiffin: N
mike Gundy: G
gReg schiano: R
kevin sUmlin: U
David cutcliffe: D
mikE leach: E
laNe kiffin: N
— Jason Bell, Ed.D. (@JasonBellTN) December 1, 2017
In the end, though, all this week did was make Tennessee look like a train without a track. Getting the program steered in the right direction will be an uphill trek unlike the one Ole Miss faces. Tennessee will no longer be mocked for being “champions of life,” nor will it face ridicule for having “5-star hearts.” None of Jones’ sayings were good enough to cover up poor performance then, and they certainly aren’t applicable now.
The season ended 6 long days ago, and Tennessee still can’t figure out how to stop losing.