August 17, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee athletic director John Currie understands the challenge facing him as he enters the first full school year in his new job.

The Volunteers were 46th in the most recent Directors' Cup all-sports standings, their lowest finish since the award originated in 1993-94.

Tennessee has ranked no better than 33rd each of the last six years. That's quite a fall for a school that never finished below 27th from 1994-2011.

''It is my expectation - it is not a goal, it's an expectation - that we will improve that standing,'' Currie said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Currie, who took over in April , noted Tennessee's tumble during a June meeting of the entire athletic staff. He acknowledges all-sports standings can be cyclical but adds that ''over time, certainly where we were the last couple of years across the board just isn't going to be acceptable, given what our history is and what our level of investment is.''

He said part of the reason for the slide was that other schools started making the investments in women's sports and men's Olympic sports that Tennessee had been making for years.

Former athletic director Dave Hart helped Tennessee dramatically upgrade its academic performance and financial health. But the Vols haven't produced team results comparable to their accomplishments in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Currie is well aware of that.

He worked in Tennessee's athletic department for nearly a decade before becoming Kansas State's athletic director in May 2009. Currie notes the expectations for all the university's departments, ''be it in business, nursing or whatever it is'' and says athletics should be held to a similar standard.

''Dr. (Beverly) Davenport, our chancellor, talks about having top-25 programs,'' Currie said. ''One would like to believe that our intercollegiate athletics program from a Directors' Cup rating standpoint could be a top-25 program very consistently.''

He already has made a couple of coaching moves. Currie fired men's tennis coach Sam Winterbotham and promoted former assistant Chris Woodruff . He selected former Arkansas assistant Tony Vitello as baseball coach after Dave Serrano resigned .

Currie expressed support for coaches of Tennessee's highest-profile programs.

He said football coach Butch Jones has ''done a marvelous job.'' Jones is 30-21 in four seasons and has led Tennessee to three straight bowl victories , though the Vols haven't reached the SEC championship game since 2007 and haven't won a league title since 1998.

''All you've got to do is look at the results,'' Currie said. ''If you take his four years (versus) the previous four years, whether it's the NFL production of talent, winning bowl games, nine-win seasons, whatever it is, by all measures our program is better. And we'll continue to get better.''

Currie said men's basketball coach Rick Barnes has done a ''great job, maybe quietly to some, of assembling a really, really strong roster.'' He also had encouraging words for women's basketball coach Holly Warlick, who has gone 42-26 in her last two seasons. Warlick went 86-20 in her first three years after former coach Pat Summitt's departure.

''There's never been a more difficult job in the history of college sports than what Coach Warlick (did in) assuming the reins of that storied program at an incredibly difficult time with Coach Summitt's illness and passing ultimately,'' Currie said. ''I'm really excited about where our team is. We have outstanding freshmen that have come in.''

Currie's first task after arriving at Tennessee was uniting a fan base , particularly after former football coach Phillip Fulmer had expressed interest in becoming athletic director. Tennessee named Fulmer a special adviser for community, athletics and university relations this summer.

''He'll speak to our all-staff meeting later this semester,'' Currie said. ''It's important. We've had a lot of changes and turnover over the last five to six years across the department. Some (members) of our staff don't know him very well probably. I want to make sure they understand how important he is, his leadership and what he stands for as a former athlete, a player, a graduate, a coach, a (College Football) Hall of Fame member.''

Currie plans to attend as many home games as he can, regardless of the sport. His intent to make himself visible all over campus was evident Wednesday.

After attending a football practice that included an appearance by Peyton Manning, Currie hopped in a golf cart to visit the Pride of the Southland band and listen to a performance of ''Rocky Top.''

''You get goose pimples, chill bumps or whatever you want to call them,'' Currie said. ''That's a pretty neat moment. Every new moment is (a) highlight. That's one of the exciting things about being here right now.''

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Follow Steve Megargee at www.twitter.com/stevemegargee

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