April 04, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The unsettled nature of John Currie's office reveals how little time he has spent there since taking over as Tennessee's athletic director.

There isn't much time for decorating as Currie attempts to live up to the proclamation he made upon his introduction last month , when he vowed to listen to as many people as possible and said Tennessee ''can and should be the very best athletics program in the country.''

''Certainly our fans are proud of the University of Tennessee and want to see us standing in the winner's circle,'' Currie said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. ''I completely embrace that and wouldn't want it any other way. We're really lucky we have great passion here.''

Currie officially became Tennessee's athletic director Saturday on his 46th birthday, just over a month after he was hired away from Kansas State . Currie is replacing Dave Hart , who had been Tennessee's athletic director since September 2011.

He has spent most of the last few days speaking with students, coaches, professors and administrators at various events ranging from a sexual assault awareness seminar to a faculty senate meeting.

''Part of what I need to be doing is building relationships so that I can help our coaches and staff and our student-athletes,'' Currie said. ''It's a lot easier to do that on the front end rather than trying to sail in on the back end of a crisis and ask somebody to help you.''

Currie previously worked in Tennessee's athletic department for nearly a decade in a variety of roles before being hired as Kansas State's athletic director in May 2009.

Much has changed since Currie's last stint in Knoxville.

Currie cites the ''complete transformation of this campus'' that has included upgrades in athletic facilities. One of his early tasks at Tennessee will involve a Neyland Stadium renovation , as the first phase of this project was approved by the Board of Trustees last fall.

But while Tennessee dramatically improved financial health of its athletic department during Hart's tenure, the Volunteers haven't finished in the top 30 of the Directors' Cup all-sports standings since 2011.

Tennessee's football program has won bowl games each of the last three years after posting four straight losing seasons from 2010-13, but it hasn't earned a division title since 2007 or a conference championship since 1998. The men's basketball hasn't posted a winning season since its 2014 Sweet 16 appearance. The storied women's basketball program hasn't reached the Final Four since 2008.

''I'd been completely focused on Kansas State University athletics until about a month ago, so I'm still learning all I need to know about our 21 different sports,'' Currie said. ''The thing I would say about football is how excited I am to work with Coach (Butch) Jones.''

Currie said he spoke by phone with each of Tennessee's head coaches in the 48 hours after he was hired. Currie plans to have one-on-one meetings with all of them over the next several weeks.

His handling of coaches drew scrutiny at Kansas State, particularly after men's basketball coach Frank Martin left for South Carolina in 2012. Currie, who began his new job the same day South Carolina played in the Final Four , calls Martin's NCAA Tournament achievement ''an incredible American success story.''

''I believe I've worked hard to build great relationships with all the great people I've worked with - coaches, staff, faculty, administrators,'' Currie said.

Currie is attempting to build those kinds of relationships at Tennessee by making himself as visible as possible on campus. That explains the current state of his office.

He has some family photos as well as a picture of his own graduation from Tennessee. A plaque of former Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt's ''Definite Dozen'' lessons for success hangs behind his desk. A framed photo from Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder's College Football Hall of Fame induction is waiting to go up on the wall. It sits next to a photograph showing Kansas State's Big 12 football, men's basketball and baseball championship banners from the 2012-13 school year.

But most of the area behind his desk remains bare for now.

''This is not the highest priority - decorating this office,'' Currie said. ''I'm not going to be here very much.''

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Follow Steve Megargee at www.twitter.com/stevemegargee

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