It was Bubba Cunningham. It was going to be Bubba Cunningham, and more people than not involved with the University of Tennessee’s search for its next athletics director had almost unanimously “signed off” on Cunningham.
Until Cunningham withdrew his name. By that point, however, even with still strong support for Phillip Fulmer, Turnkey Search had convinced and urged the University of Tennessee’s representatives that it simply had to have a sitting, acting “Power-5” athletics director.
I won’t be the first, nor the last, to point out that Beverly Davenport was not a sitting chancellor at a Power-5 school, as Cincinnati’s interim president, nor had Davenport ever held the chancellor post at a Power-5 school. She does have strong stints at Kansas, Kentucky and Purdue; too, Cincy has a vastly larger enrollment than UT and Davenport had been considered a strong candidate for UC’s permanent president’s role but has said she appreciated UT’s speedy recruitment of her and the opportunity to be in SEC country.
Nonetheless, after Turnkey Search seemed a huge bonus for Phillip Fulmer, numerous sources indicate the group helped lead to his undoing with its insistence on a sitting Power-5 A.D. Jimmy Haslam had a strong rapport with John Currie, and once Haslam swung Peyton Manning into his corner, it was a done deal.
That’s why Davenport flew out so very early little more than a week ago, at 5:30 a.m., and also why previous talks had occurred in Nashville between Currie and UT/Turnkey reps per multiple sources.
Manning, who may even have been tasked with informing some finalists that they would not be getting the job, continues to have his name linked to future NFL endeavors — in the form of majority ownership in an NFL team. Maybe even the Titans. Nothing from the past 10 days has dissuaded such chatter.
But the Currie maneuvering remained arguably UT’s most closely held secret in its past 15 to 20 years; indeed search committee members of Board of Trustees members indicate they were unaware of Currie’s impending hire. Furthermore, multiple sources indicated that UT’s P.R. — not its sports information department — had begun preparing myriad items to announce Fulmer as the next UT A.D.
One source who spoke directly to someone the broad-based side of UT P.R. even indicated Davenport was advised to disclose Currie’s contract deal and terms at the presser but refused and likewise refused advice/counseling on how to handle certain questions that were certain to and did arise.
Currie has already made some savvy moves; he’s reached out to a number of big-time donors and those that he hasn’t gotten on the phone, he’s left detailed messages. His first big task will be unifying a divided building and athletics department.
IN OTHER NEWS …
Hard to fully articulate how strong the hires of Brady Hoke and Charlton Warren have been perceived for Butch Jones’ Vols’ coaching staff.
Warren has been particularly engaging with his players and logged countless hours with the secondary in order for that unit to open spring camp in a couple weeks on the same page, communicating well and operating more efficiently and with better technique.
One of the very cool things Warren did was schedule not one but two individual meetings with every defensive back. One meeting was a standard “get-to-know-you” meeting while the other was more geared toward expectations, coaching style, areas of improvement, scheme and general football talk. Warren has been an early smash hit with his players.
Hoke, meanwhile, is an absolute film junkie. And he doesn’t remotely attempt to hide it.
“Believe me, on the server right now I believe there is four years of Michigan, four years of breakdowns,” Hoke said. “And then obviously a fall (season) from Oregon. And two years from San Diego State.”
Hoke isn’t a pack-rat, per se, but he’s proudly a football junkie who retains every scrap of material that could perhaps some day help win a ballgame.
“In the digital age, it’s a little easier,” Hoke said, “But I’ve got boxes of playbooks and files. My wife keeps saying, ‘Why do we have to move all this stuff?’ I keep telling her there’s going to be something that’s important, something to look at.”
FUTURE FOOTBALL FOE …
Some folks in Nashville and other areas have indicated that Tennessee would like to fill one of its 2020 non-conference schedule dates with Football Championship Subdivision resident Furman, a likely early-September game that would be obviously a home game for the Vols.