Tennessee hires Kansas State's Currie as athletic director

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee has hired John Currie from Kansas State to replace Dave Hart as the Volunteers' athletic director.

The school announced the hiring Tuesday. A press conference to introduce Currie is scheduled for Thursday, and he will begin his new job April 1.

Currie, 45, was hired as Kansas State's AD in May 2009. Before taking the job at Kansas State, he worked at Tennessee in various capacities from 1997-2009, most recently as an executive associate athletic director on former athletic director Mike Hamilton's staff.

He also has a master's degree from Tennessee.

''As a graduate of the University of Tennessee, I know how much UT athletics means to the people in the state, and I look forward to serving all of the Big Orange Nation, its wonderful coaches, staff and student-athletes for many years to come,'' Currie said in a university release. ''We are excited to return to Rocky Top.''

Knoxville radio station WNML first reported the Currie hire as Tennessee's AD.

Hart, who has been Tennessee's athletic director since September 2011, announced in August he would retire effective June 30. His contract terms allow Tennessee to hire a new AD before June 30 and accelerate Hart's retirement as long as he receives 15 days written notice. Under that scenario, Hart goes on paid administrative leave until beginning other full-time employment or through June 30.

When he announced his pending departure, Hart said he made the decision in part to allow the new chancellor to select an athletic director. Beverly Davenport took over as chancellor Feb. 15 to replace Jimmy Cheek, who announced he was returning to teaching.

Hart's announcement came after Tennessee opted against giving him an extension and raise. Hart had been making about $800,000 per year.

Currie signed a contract extension with Kansas State last April through the 2022 academic year. He was making $775,000 in annual salary with retention bonuses of $100,000 due in 2017, $275,000 in 2021 and $325,000 if he remained in his position through June 2022.

He provides the administrative experience that Davenport wanted in her new athletic director while also having the Tennessee background many boosters had requested. The Turnkey Sports and Entertainment firm assisted in the search along with a separate committee that included former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

''John exemplifies all the qualities we were seeking in an athletics director,'' Davenport said in a statement. ''He is a man of high integrity, strong values, a progressive thinker, he fully understands the importance of being compliant in everything we do, and he is a leader who will put the well-being of our student-athletes above everything.''

Currie was at turns wildly successful and often-maligned at Kansas State.

He inherited a program that was a financial mess and quickly balanced the budget, then put together a plan that allowed the athletic department to stand independently of university support. That made it easier for him to land massive donations to fund several major building projects.

The biggest has been a massive overhaul of Bill Snyder Family Stadium, including a $90 million press box and training facility and new luxury suites.

But Currie also had a reputation for being abrasive with coaches, and most believe his inability to work with former basketball coach Frank Martin was the biggest reason Martin left for South Carolina.

Currie replaced him with Bruce Weber, who had just been fired by Illinois. The hiring was widely panned from the moment it was made, and Weber has been unable to keep the Wildcats competitive in the Big 12, leading many fans to call for his ouster after the season.

That decision could now rest with Kansas State President Richard Myers, unless Kansas State moves quickly to fill the AD job. One candidate is Laird Veatch, who has been Currie's right-hand man.

Myers issued a statement thanking Currie ''for his tremendous leadership and efforts on behalf of our student-athletes and university.'' Currie said that ''words cannot express how grateful our family is for the time and experience we have had here at K-State and in the Manhattan community.''

Currie inherits a Tennessee program that dramatically improved the financial health of its athletic department and the academic performance of its student-athletes while also dealing with controversy under Hart.

Tennessee reached a $2.48 million settlement last year in a Title IX lawsuit regarding its handling of assault and sexual assault complaints against athletes. Hart also faced backlash over the decision to eliminate the Lady Vols nickname for all women's sports other than basketball.

Hart's biggest coaching hire was the selection of Butch Jones, who rebuilt the football program and led Tennessee to three straight bowl victories but hasn't reached the Southeastern Conference championship game.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas contributed to this report.

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