Texts, emails reveal details of Vols coaching search
Text messages and emails obtained in an open records requests reveal information about the Vols coaching search and John Currie's final days as athletics director.
Today is going to be epic one way or another."
Former Tennessee Athletics Director John Currie sent that text message on November 30, 2017, according to documents obtained by NBC affiliate WBIR in an open records request.
He was right.
Tennessee fans went to bed that night thinking Mike Leach might be their next head football coach.
And he almost was.
Instead, Currie was suspended from his position as Vols AD the next morning.
PURSUING MIKE LEACH
"Text whenever you're ready. I'm on the bike path by the water," Washington State head coach Mike Leach direct messaged John Currie to set up their meeting in Los Angeles.
While flying to LA, Currie was out of touch with UT officials for about six hours. Upon landing in LA, Currie sent a text explaining the lack of communication was due to broken WiFi on his flight, and received a text from UTAD Chief Operating Officer Reid Sigmon saying, "Lots of people worried about your whereabouts."
Currie responded, "I'm fine. I'm still alive."
At 4:14 on the afternoon of November 30, Currie sent a group text saying, "He wants the job, but I have not offered or discussed terms with him. He has to leave for a visit at 2 (Pacific time). Can someone please call me back?"
At 4:26 p.m., UTK Chancellor Beverly Davenport texted Curried saying, "We need you to come back to Knoxville tonight."
Currie responded, "What should I tell Coach Leach?"
"Tell him you have nothing more you can talk with him about," Davenport replied.
Currie wrote an email to several UT officials, including Davenport and President Dr. Joe DiPietro, saying:
"I have been trying to call for 45 minutes to discuss situation but I understand from the text that I have been instructed to end my visit with Coach Leach and return to Knoxville. I am not sure I can get a flight tonight but I will head to the airport as soon as I talk to and let him know.
Although I have not offered the job or discussed terms with him, he told me that he would take the job if offered. Matthew know how to follow up with his agent Gary O’Hagan. He would make an excellent choice.
I am very sorry for the stress I caused by the Wifi outage on the Delta flight. I had every intention of being able to communicate and that we could still get DD (NC State coach Dave Doeren) deal done while I was traveling but without an immediate answer, the negative social media assaults against him and and the media news of their negotiating with NCSU, I was concerned that I needed to be in position to meet with other candidate including Coach Leach who’s was in LA recruiting. This presented an opportunity for a quick meeting, as there are direct flights from RDU.
I apologize to all involved.
Davenport responded with this email:
Thank you for the email. I trust you are on your way back to Knoxville as I requested in my text this afternoon. This morning we tried for six hours to contact you about the state of the search. After finally connecting, you informed me that you were in California heading into a meeting with Mike Leach. This was the first I had heard of this meeting. Because of the confusion from earlier in the day with the other candidate, I asked you not to pursue any discussions about employment with any additional candidates. I would like to meet with you in my office at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow (Dec. 1)to continue this discussion.
Shortly after midnight, Leach messaged Currie letting him know he had landed at his destination. "You're a good man and I hope you come out of this ok and we can work together," Leach said.
Currie responded at 1:44 a.m. to let Leach know he had landed in Knoxville, to which Leach replied, "Let me know if I can ever do anything for you. I truly wish I had gathered you up and we had the first of many beers together. I wis you and your family the best."
Currie replied, "My two best friends picked me up at the airport. There are good people here."
Currie was suspended with pay after meeting with Davenport on the morning of December 1.
Sometime after Currie left his meeting with Leach, UT general counsel Matthew Scoggins texted Leach's agent Gary O'Hagan. "We are going to take a couple of days and regroup in our search. It has nothing to do with Coach Leach," Scoggins said.
O'Hagan replied, "The people we worked with the past two days who are associated with the Vols search were professional and thorough. We negotiated earnestly and in good faith and feel we had reached and agreed to a deal. We hope that UT sees the tremendous value in having Mike Leach as their football coach."
Phillip Fulmer took over as Tennessee's athletics director on December 1 and hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as the Vols head coach on December 7.
OTHER COACHING CANDIDATES
Texts and direct messages obtained by NBC affiliate WBIR in an open records request show contact between Currie and other coaching candidates or their representatives.
Currie had contact with former Mississippi State and current Florida head coach Dan Mullen on November 24 and 25. Mullen told Currie in a message that he talked to Peyton Manning. Florida hired Mullen on November 26.
Less than two hours after Tennessee's season-ending loss to Vanderbilt on November 25, Currie texted Davenport from a Waffle House. Later that night, he messaged her again, saying, "Have a tentative deal in place, awaiting word from you/Prez. Will be up early, call whenever."
On the morning of Sunday, November 26, Currie texted Davenport several times asking if she had heard from UT's President, Joe DiPietro. In the meantime, Currie traded emails with Sigmon containing rough drafts of Greg Schiano announcements.
Currie messaged Schiano at 3:40 p.m. asking if he could make a 7:15 p.m. departure. Schiano said he believed he could.
After Currie's deal with Schiano fell through because of backlash from many people associated with UT, he turned his attention to Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy.
On Monday, November 27, Gundy messaged Currie, telling him, "I adjusted my schedule for today after I heard the news yesterday. I can shake loose in Dallas tomorrow."
Messages between the two indicate Currie and Gundy met at a hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on the night of Monday, November 27 and again the next day.
Shortly after 9 p.m. on the 28th, Currie messaged NC State coach Dave Doeren's agent Jordan Bazant and told him, "Gundy is out."
Bazant replied, "Ok. Let's get this done."
Currie met with Doeren but by the early morning hours of November 30th, had begun contacting Leach.
Bazant messaged Currie that morning, saying Doeren was fired up and then, "really need to hear from you." That was the last message between the two.
Doeren later signed an extension with NC State.
There wasn't much mention of the name Jon Gruden in the documents, except for people contacting Currie to ask if the rumors were true. Including a text from former Vol and current Steelers quarterback Josh Dobbs.
"Good evening Mr. Currie. Sooo are the rumors true?" Dobbs asked.
When Curried asked which rumors he was talking about, Dobbs said, "A lot of buzz around Coach Gruden. Wasn't sure if it is legit or hearsay."
"Geez even you?" Currie replied.
COACHES INTERESTED IN VOLS
On November 30, Joan Cronan, Tennessee women's athletic director emeritus, texted Currie to inform him that former LSU head coach Les Miles called her and expressed interest in being the Vols head coach.
A representative for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson texted Currie on the night of November 30 to let him know that Johnson was interested in the Tennessee job.
Former Vols interim head coach and defensive line coach Brady Hoke also texted Currie to express his interest in the job. All of Hoke's texts to Currie in the records were in all caps.