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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN/WATE) – Former head coach Phillip Fulmer was tapped as the athletic director for the foreseeable future at the University of Tennessee on Friday amid the school’s disastrous search for a new football coach.
Chancellor Beverly Davenport made the announcement at an afternoon press conference, saying John Currie was suspended from his role.
“Phillip Fulmer will begin serving as athletic director effective immediately,” Davenport said. “I have taken these steps in the best interest of the university.”
She continued, “I am confident that Phillip understands the need to support our student-athletes and our commitment to excellence in all athletic programs. I appreciate his willingness to serve during this critical time.”
Fulmer is the second-winningest coach in Tennessee football history, compiling a 152-52 career record in 17 seasons at the helm of the program.
“No one better understands the storied history of Vol athletics and its deep connection to alumni and fans, and I believe he will be a unifying presence for all of us committed to the university’s success,” Davenport noted.
Fulmer will now lead the continued search for a new head football coach after several prospects failed to commit to the school in the wake of Butch Jones’ firing earlier this month.
The university was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano last weekend, but the deal fell through amid a public backlash.
Reports linked Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm to Tennessee’s vacancy, but both stayed put. North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren agreed to a new contract Thursday after speaking with Tennessee officials.
Also on Thursday, Currie reportedly met with Washington State coach Mike Leach in Los Angeles and flew back to Knoxville early Friday morning, according to people familiar with the meeting.
The public nature of Tennessee’s inability to find a coach frustrated a fan base already angry about the Vols’ poor 2017 season. People chanted “Fire Currie” on a handful of occasions Monday night during a wrestling show on campus and again Wednesday night during the Tennessee men’s basketball team’s victory over Mercer.
Currie just took over as Tennessee’s athletic director in April after Dave Hart stepped down. Currie agreed to a five-year contract worth at least $900,000 annually. According to terms of Currie’s contract, the school would owe him $5.5 million if he is fired now without cause.
At his introductory news conference , Currie boldly said that Tennessee “can and should be the very best athletics program in the country.”
Currie’s familiarity with Tennessee was seen as a selling point when he got hired. Before coming to Kansas State, he worked at Tennessee for about a decade in various capacities, most recently as a chief deputy and adviser to former athletic director Mike Hamilton.
Hamilton forced out longtime football coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008. This marks Tennessee’s fourth coaching search since Fulmer’s exit. He had publicly expressed his interest in the athletic director position, but Currie was chosen as Hart’s replacement instead.
Tennessee is conducting this search after possibly the most disappointing season in school history. After being ranked in the Top 25 at the start of the year, Tennessee went 4-8 to set a school record for losses.
The Vols were winless in Southeastern Conference competition for the first time since the league formed in 1933.