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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie answered 25 questions at a news conference Sunday afternoon that seemed inevitable.
He gave long answers, speaking about the well-being of student-athletes and painting with broad strokes about the enterprise of collegiate athletics and where a tumultuous Tennessee football program fits into the shifting landscape of college football.
But one of his shortest answers was the most telling.
"We're standing here right now because we haven't won enough," Currie said.
Currie met with fifth-year Volunteers football coach Butch Jones on Sunday morning and fired him. By afternoon, Currie announced the start of an "exhaustive search" for Jones' replacement.
"None of us want to be in this position," Currie said. "But we are in this position, and now we move forward."
Just a few months ago, Currie regularly commended the work Jones had done to rebuild the Tennessee football program since taking it over after the 2012 season. There were three straight bowl wins, as well as substantial improvements to academics and recruiting classes.
Currie still spoke highly of Jones' work Sunday, but it became clear to the university's first-year athletic director on Saturday evening in Columbia, Mo., that scores in the Academic Progress Rate could no longer counter-balance the scores on the scoreboard.
"Really, late last night it was evident this was probably the direction we needed to go for the best of all concerned," Currie said.
Tennessee lost to Missouri 50-17 and fell to 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference. Just 13 months after the Volunteers ascended to a No. 9 national ranking, they are now at the bottom of the league standings and on the cusp of missing a bowl game.
Now the task of resurrecting Tennessee football to its former glory will fall to a new coach. Currie said the search for Jones' replacement will be his sole focus. Money, he expressed, will not be a prohibitive factor in hiring "the best coach for Tennessee."
"There's lots of different experiences out there that are relevant to our environment," Currie said. "Certainly, we need to hire someone who understands the magnitude that comes along with this job and the opportunity and responsibility that come along with being the head football coach at the University of Tennessee."
On Sunday, Currie spoke to the football team after Jones informed players in a team meeting that he had been fired. Currie told them not to believe anything they hear about Tennessee's next coach except what they hear from himself. Currie said he will not make any public comments on the search until it is time to introduce the new coach.
Hiring a football coach will be a new venture for Currie, who started on April 1 after eight years as the athletic director at Kansas State. He did not hire a football coach at Kansas State, though he did hire a men's basketball coach. At Tennessee, he has hired a men's tennis coach and a baseball coach.
Currie has appointed defensive line coach Brady Hoke to serve as interim head coach for Tennessee's final two regular season games. The Vols host Louisiana State University on Saturday and close the season against Vanderbilt at the end of next week. Tennessee needs to win both to qualify for a bowl game.
"As always, I am confident that the Vol nation will stick together, rally around this team and support our student-athletes," Currie said. "We will begin an exhaustive search for a person of the highest integrity and character with the skills and vision to propel Tennessee to championships. This is an extraordinarily special place with unique opportunities and a tradition of excellence."
The requirements for that coach will start with integrity and "a commitment to doing things the right way," Currie said. What Jones brought in terms of the program's academic emphasis and community involvement are also prerequisites, he said.
And then there is where Jones fell short: on the scoreboard.
"Certainly, we expect our coach to have the dynamics that will enable him to lead us to where we know Tennessee football can and should be," Currie said. "Our coach needs to know what that looks like."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org
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