Tennessee, former AD Currie agree to $2.5 million settlement
By STEVE MEGARGEE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee has reached a $2.5 million settlement with former athletic director John Currie less than four months after he was suspended in the midst of a football coaching search that turned into a fiasco.
Currie already had received nearly $280,000 since being suspended and placed on paid leave in December. School officials announced Thursday that Currie will get an additional $2.2 million no later than April 1.
"We wish John and his family well in their future endeavors," Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport said in a statement. "We are grateful for his contributions to the University of Tennessee which began more than two decades ago."
Davenport also wrote a letter of reference for Currie in which she said that "I was impressed with John's commitment to our athletics program in general and to our student-athletes in particular." Davenport adds that "we forged a productive partnership that led to several key initiatives while he was here."
Tennessee said the money to cover Currie's settlement would come entirely from the athletic department and wouldn't include any taxpayer dollars, student tuition fees or donor funds.
Currie said in a statement: "It was an honor to work again with the outstanding UTKnoxville student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty & fans ."
Davenport announced on Dec. 1 she was suspending Currie while exploring firing him for cause. Currie had been on the job only eight months and was looking for a new football coach at the time.
The buyout terms of Currie's contract said he'd be owed $5.5 million if he got fired without cause.
Davenport replaced Currie in the midst of a tumultuous coaching search that caused embarrassment for the university. Tennessee released numerous documents Thursday that shed more light on that process.
Currie and Greg Schiano signed a memorandum of understanding to make the Ohio State defensive coordinator the new Volunteers football coach before the deal fell apart amid a public backlash . The memorandum of understanding, which wasn't signed by Davenport, would have given Schiano a six-year, $27 million contract.
Less than a week later, Currie met with Washington State coach Mike Leach in Los Angeles about Tennessee's vacancy.
"This morning we tried for six hours to contact you about the state of the search," Davenport said in a Nov. 30 email to Currie obtained through a public records request. "After finally connecting, you informed me that we were in California heading into a meeting with Mike Leach. This was the first I had heard of this meeting."
Davenport also notes that she had asked Currie "not to pursue any discussions about employment with any additional candidates" and requests that he return to Knoxville. Davenport suspended Currie the next day.
Currie had written an email to Davenport blaming the problem on a WiFi outage on his flight. Currie said Leach "told me that he would take the job if offered" and that he'd pursued the Washington State coach because of issues in negotiations with North Carolina State's Dave Doeren, who also had emerged as a candidate before agreeing to a new contract with the Wolfpack .
College Football Hall of Famer and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer took over for Currie as athletic director and eventually hired former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as the Vols' coach . Pruitt replaced Butch Jones, who was fired last November after going 34-27 in five seasons.
A public records request of Currie's communications during the coaching search showed contact early in the process with Dan Mullen, who instead left Mississippi State for Florida. Documents also showed Currie had extensive communications with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, Jordan Bazant, who represents Doeren, and Leach.
Tennessee also released numerous emails from Tennessee fans criticizing Currie's handling of the search and recommending his dismissal.
The Schiano deal fell apart Nov. 26 after widespread complaints that included a protest on campus and complaints on social media from fans as well as Tennessee state representatives and gubernatorial candidates. Currie received thousands of text messages that day, most criticizing a potential Schiano hire.
Complaints about Schiano stemmed in part from his background as an assistant at Penn State during Jerry Sandusky's tenure as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator. Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for his conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse.
Raja Jubran, the vice chair of Tennessee's Board of Trustees, wrote in an email to other board members dated Nov. 26 that "it is so disappointing that our fan base and our media are willing to condemn a man" and that "I just hate that we are ruining (someone's) reputation unfairly."
Jubran wrote in a separate Nov. 26 email that Tennessee's fans were upset in part because they had their hearts set on Tennessee hiring Jon Gruden, who was an ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst at the time.
"But our fans want Gruden, who is using us to improve his ratings and (is) not interested in any coaching job that we know of," Jubran said. "And the fan base that wants Gruden are more than happy to spread fake rumors and ruin a (man's) reputation."
Jubran also praised Currie's handling of the coaching search to that point and the vetting of Schiano in his email.
Gruden returned to coaching with the NFL's Oakland Raiders six weeks later.
Currie took over as Tennessee's athletic director April 1 after previously having the same position at Kansas State. He also had two previous stints at Tennessee in which he filled a variety of roles.
Currie currently is currently spending a week as an executive-in-residence at Robert Morris University's business school .
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Updated March 22, 2018