Tennessee’s new athletic director John Currie will have a lot on his plate when he begins his new job on April Fool’s Day.
He must mend some fences. As he said himself, one of the disadvantages to returning to a place where you worked a dozen years is that you stepped on some toes.
He must decide whether to restore the Lady Vols to all women’s sports rather than just basketball carrying the moniker.
He must finish Neyland Stadium renovations, which were started over a dozen years ago.
He must make sure UT’s finances are solid. When Dave Hart took over in 2011, UT’s athletic department reserve as a mere $1.9 million. It dropped to $1.6 million. At the time, Alabama’s reserve was over $80 million and the 13th team in the SEC, Mississippi State, had $14.4 million. UT’s reserve now exceeds $15 million.
And while I know football is the engine that drives the train in the SEC, there was a time when Tennessee took pride in being a well-rounded sports program.
That isn’t the case today.
In recent years, the Tennessee men have finished near the bottom of the SEC’s all-sports derby. While the women have fared better, finishing in the top half, only two women’s sports have been consistently good – basketball and softball.
In the most recent Learfield Director’s Cup that compares all sports nationwide, Tennessee was 113 based on fall sports – UT-Chattanooga was 107.
Tennessee’s budget: $120 million. UTC’s budget: $17 million.
Since Hart took over in September 2011, Tennessee has won the SEC regular season in three sports: women’s basketball (twice) and volleyball. Women’s basketball also has added two SEC tournament titles.
That’s it. Nothing in football or men’s basketball or baseball or track or tennis or swimming. It’s even become a chore for some UT sports just to make postseason play.
Tennessee men’s basketball has made one NCAA tournament since 2011.
Tennessee baseball hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2005.
In the most recent NCAA Indoor National Track and Field Championships, only one Tennessee athlete scored for the men and women combined.
In football, Tennessee hasn’t won the East Division since 2007 and hasn’t won the SEC since 1998. Both are program-long droughts (the SEC went to division play in 1992).
And the Lady Vols, who have made 18 Final Fours and won eight national titles, haven’t been to the Final Four since 2008.
So, yes, John Currie will have a lot on his plate when he arrives April 1.
But one thing he needs to fix – Tennessee’s all-around sports program.
No doubt, football is king of the hill. But other sports should not be ignored.
Former Tennessee AD Doug Dickey once said he wanted all of his teams either winning SEC titles or being “in the mix” for championships.
Too many of UT’s sports haven’t been in the mix for years.
It’s time that changed.
(You can follow Jimmy Hyams on Twitter @JimmyHyams)
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