Tennessee’s new athletics director is doing just fine, visiting with SEC brass, scheduling caravan stops, smoothing a few rough spots and making all things better, including tennis and baseball.
Most of John Currie’s early moves continue to be routine, renewing acquaintances, soliciting a few million dollars here and there, reviewing a couple of contracts, examining expense accounts and preparing a budget. He made one preemptive strike, a $31,000 raise, guaranteed to eliminate a future call for equal pay for women coaches.
Currie is Tennessee’s sixth actual AD. Tennessee didn’t know it needed one before Robert R. Neyland. He was first, in his spare time. He made the big decisions. There were few complications. Football assistants coached other sports and, without question, answered to the General. His secretary, Edna Calloway, did most of the administrative work.
John Barnhill was a substitute when Neyland went to war.
Coach Bowden Wyatt became interim AD after Neyland’s death. He made two memorable moves, hiring basketball coach Ray Mears and Chuck Rohe for track.
When Wyatt was fired in the summer of ’63, a death struggle developed within the football staff. Bob Woodruff and Jim McDonald wanted to replace Wyatt. Players preferred McDonald. He was named interim coach. Woodruff got the consolation prize, interim athletics director.
This developed into one of the most significant moves in the history of Tennessee sports. Drama and intrigue were all around.
Woodruff didn’t say much. He was deliberate in all communications, a disaster as a public speaker, but a very deep thinker.
He had been places and seen things – as a Neyland assistant, Army engineering major, assistant coach under Earl Blaik at West Point, assistant under Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech, head coach at Baylor, head coach and athletics director at Florida, seven-year contract at the unbelievable salary of $17,000. Woodruff was then 34.
He grew wise in the ways of athletic politics.
His first move as Tennessee interim athletics director was to line up the replacement for McDonald – just in case. Indeed, Bob foresaw the future. He went to the annual pre-season fish fry in Arkansas to check on his former Gator quarterback, Doug Dickey, a bright, young assistant on Frank Broyles’ Razorback staff.
Woodruff said he was there to get the recipe for coleslaw and hushpuppies but in different ways, he kept asking Frank how Doug was doing.
Few, other than Broyles, could have guessed that Dickey, 31, was to be the next Tennessee coach. The plan was in place long before McDonald’s team sagged to 3-5.
There was a sharp difference of opinion inside UT walls. Two trustees felt McDonald deserved a real chance. Others said the Vols should hire a former Vol, big name, established coach. One of the favorites was Murray Warmath, not far removed from a national championship at Minnesota.
Ex-Vol, trustee and generous donor Herman D. “Breezy” Wynn was a Warmath advocate.
Woodruff was uncomfortable with such talk. He was new in his job. His influence was limited. If Tennessee brought in a famous coach, Woodruff might by pushed far into the background.
Without saying that, he suggested a bright, young assistant would be a better choice. At least one trustee, Union City attorney Tom Elam, favored Woodruff’s idea based on cost advantages.
Andy Holt, university president, was moderator of the hot-air evening. Breezy was adamant. Tensions peaked. Trustee Roy “Pap” Striegel calmly introduced a different view, that UT had an athletics director who knew a little something about football and should know a coach when he saw one. Striegel suggested Woodruff provide leadership and bring a recommendation to the group.
Bingo! Dr. Holt bought that logic. Wynn and at least one other trustee walked out and were forever lost. Woodruff went out, too, to call Dickey. He became the youngest coach in the college game.
No such excitement awaits the new athletics director. To the best of my knowledge, there are no 31-year-old Doug Dickeys in the entire coaching world.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org