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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
John Currie gained a reputation for leading large-scale facility improvement projects during his time as an associate athletic director at Tennessee.
Now back in Knoxville as the university's athletic director, Currie will oversee substantial updates to the most iconic structure on the university's campus.
During a visit to the Times Free Press before Saturday's Big Orange Caravan event at First Tennessee Pavilion, Currie gave a twofold answer to a question about the biggest opportunities and challenges that face him as AD.
"Number one, we've got to win more," Currie said. "But we have to do that in the context of what we're really here about, and that's our student-athletes. That's representing the University of Tennessee the right way."
Then there's infrastructure.
"In our case, Neyland Stadium is an iconic symbol of college football," Currie said. "It will turn 100 years old in 2021. We have a number of fans who, when they come to Neyland Stadium and sit in particular areas, they're not receiving world-class experiences."
The university completed a feasibility study on Neyland renovations last year, before Currie's arrival from Kansas State. UT's board of trustees approved spending $106 million on the first phase of the project, and school officials have said they hope to complete phase one before the 2019 football season.
"That's a project we have to really take on, and it's going to be an expensive project," Currie said. "So we have to be creative and aggressive to get that done."
The first renovations would, among several things, focus on the south and east sections of the stadium by adding more restrooms and concession stands to those areas.
"From an infrastructure standpoint, one of the advantages to being a historical, legacy program like the University of Tennessee is that you've got some great history, great facilities," Currie said. "But you also have to be careful that the inertia from those types of things -- that you don't let that lead you astray."
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones could have assumed the day's hard questions were finished when he took the stage with Bob Kesling and basketball coaches Rick Barnes and Holly Warlick during the caravan event.
Jones had spoken to reporters and talked to hundreds of fans while signing autographs at the first stop on the athletic department's revamped, family-friendly tour of the state.
Kesling, the radio voice of the Volunteers, and Barnes did not let Jones off easy, however.
To the delight of the fans, Kesling inquired about the battle between Quinten Dormady and Jarret Guarantano to replace Joshua Dobbs as Tennessee's quarterback during a question-and-answer session at the end of the event.
Jones didn't give any hints, but then Barnes played the role of reporter.
"Bob, here's how you ask the question," Barnes said as he moved his attention towars Jones. "If you were playing today, who would be the starting quarterback?"
Jones held firm, praising both quarterbacks.
"Everything is about competition," he told reporters earlier in the day. "Both individuals have taken tremendous strides in moving forward, and obviously this summer will be good."
Jones and his staff worked with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football staff at a camp for high school players at Finley Stadium in the morning.
During a time of year when Currie said many coaches and athletic directors will take the weekends off and "go to the lake or something like that," he pointed to the athletic department's heavy presence at the Chattanooga event as a gesture of gratitude for the fans.
"This is intended to be both a statement and a fun day," Currie said. "The statement is that we're committed to being accessible to our fans, to honoring our fans. There are a lot of people from Chattanooga that get up on Saturday mornings and drive up to Knoxville.
"So how about me driving down to Chattanooga on a Saturday morning just like our fans will do (the other way) this fall."
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com
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