The abundance of chefs in Tennessee’s proverbial kitchen is holding up a deal that would bring Washington State’s Mike Leach to Knoxville as the next coach of the Volunteers, and now it has cost athletic director John Currie his job.
Leach and Tennessee athletic director John Currie met in California and agreed to terms Thursday on a deal that would make Leach the Volunteers’ next football coach, but before anything could be signed Currie was called back to Knoxville to reassess a coaching search that has gone from bizarre to surreal. Currie was fired Friday morning, and the school named former head coach Phillip Fulmer the acting athletic director on Friday afternoon.
On Sunday, the Vols agreed to terms with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, but an unprecedented fan revolt caused Tennessee officials to back out of the deal. In the succeeding days, Currie discussed the job with Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and NC State’s Dave Doeren. When word leaked Thursday night that Currie had met with Leach, it was met with almost overwhelming approval by fans on social media. But someone at Tennessee—sources close to the negotiation will not say who—was displeased with Currie’s courtship of Leach. Shortly after a draft of a Memorandum of Understanding was sent to Tennessee’s general counsel on Thursday, Currie was ordered to return to Knoxville.
Leach is 122–80 in 16 seasons as a head coach at Texas Tech and Washington State. Leach’s Cougars are 9–3 and missed out on a chance to play for the Pac-12 title by losing to Washington in the Apple Cup this past weekend. Leach, one of the originators of the Air Raid offense, last worked in the SEC when he was Kentucky’s offensive coordinator from 1997-98.
Leach’s hiring should play better with Tennessee’s fan base than the decision Sunday to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. That plan was abandoned Sunday night after a fan uprising. This week, Tennessee officials also discussed the job with Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and NC State’s Dave Doeren.
The Vols were initially hesitant to pursue Leach because Leach sued Texas Tech following his firing in 2009. Leach claims the Red Raiders did not pay him for that season, but his lawsuit against the school was dismissed in 2013. He has since become an outspoken opponent of sovereign immunity, the legal concept Texas Tech used to get the case tossed. Leach was fired at Texas Tech after Adam James, the son of former SMU star and ESPN analyst Craig James, claimed Leach mistreated him when the younger James had a concussion. Leach spent part of his book Swing Your Sword refuting those allegations, which were promoted in part by a public relations firm retained by Craig James.
Tennessee fired Jones on Nov. 13 in the midst of a 4–8 season in which Tennessee went 0–8 in the SEC. The Vols have been in near-constant turmoil since the the firing of Phillip Fulmer in 2008. Lane Kiffin spent one season in Knoxville before leaving for the USC job. Derek Dooley was hired to replace Kiffin, and he went 16–21 in three seasons. Jones upgraded Tennessee’s roster, but Jones’s tenure began to fall apart after the 2016 team beat Florida and Georgia but failed to win the SEC East after because it lost to South Carolina and then failed to make the Sugar Bowl because it lost to Vanderbilt.