Mike Leach was ready and willing to be Tennessee’s coach if the Volunteers’ coaching search hadn’t gotten really crazy.
When the Washington State coach and his agent were having discussions with former Tennessee athletic director John Currie, the search was already pretty crazy. Leach wasn’t the program’s first choice. Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano was set to be Tennessee’s coach, but backlash to Currie’s selection of Schiano sent the athletic director scrambling.
Leach was one of the many candidates Currie talked to in the wake of the Schiano mess. And now, thanks to records released by the University of Tennessee following a Freedom of Information Act request by USA Today, we know Leach was amenable to be Tennessee’s coach before Currie was fired. And Currie’s perception of his former employer’s fanbase.
In a text to a reporter for USA Today, Currie called Tennessee fans ‘wacko’ as they protested the Schiano hire. While many fans might have been displeased with Schiano’s lack of a recent college head-coaching job or his lack of success in the NFL, a talking point against Schiano’s hire was a specious-at-best link to his tenure at Penn State as an assistant coach and the school’s sexual assault scandal.
Following the outrage, Tennessee backed away from the deal with Schiano. The former Rutgers coach had only signed a memorandum of understanding with the school and not an official contract.
Currie then moved on to other coaching candidates including Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and NC State’s Dave Doeren. Based on the records — which give some great insight into one of the wackiest coaching searches in recent memory — Currie appeared to choose Doeren over Gundy and Doeren’s agent was willing to discuss terms. But then Currie moved on to Leach and never got back to Doeren’s rep.
That, combined with going silent with his Tennessee co-workers for a period of time, would then set up a problem for Currie’s employment status.
Leach met with Currie in Los Angeles, and according to an email from Currie to other Tennessee employees, the Wazzu coach said he’d take the Tennessee job before Currie was summoned back from Los Angeles by the school.
All: 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.
That was in response to a message from Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport calling for Currie to come back to Knoxville after she found out Currie was meeting with Leach.
“I trust you are on your way back to Knoxville as I requested in my text message 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 (Doeren), I asked you not to pursue any discussions about employment with any additional candidates.”
Currie was placed on leave by the university the next day and replaced as the school’s athletic director by former coach Phil Fulmer. For their part in the circus, Gundy and Doeren each received new contracts from their current schools.
Fulmer took over the search and eventually hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to be Tennesee’s coach. Currie and Tennessee reached a $2.5 million settlement regarding his departure on Thursday.
Currie was searching for a coach following the firing of Butch Jones with two games to go in the season. Jones, now an offensive analyst at Alabama, was replaced on an interim basis by former Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
Hoke even campaigned for the permanent job himself. He apparently texts in all capital letters.
“JOHN I HOPE YOU DO KNOW I WOULD LIKE TO BE YOUR HEAD FOOTBALL COACH I DO KNOW THE ENVIRONMENT WE LIVE IN AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE AT TENNESSEE!”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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