John Currie, the Tennessee athletic director, fired football coach Butch Jones in the aftermath of Saturday’s humiliating 50-17 loss at Missouri. A short time later, Currie named Brady Hoke, who has head coaching experience, as the Vols’ interim head coach.
Hoke has previous head coaching experience at Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan and will coach the Vols through the final two regular season games against LSU and Vanderbilt.
This is a complete transcript of Currie's question and answer portion of Sunday’s press conference in Knoxville:
Q -- When you were hired as AD you had a number of requirements to get the job.
What kind of requirements do you have in mind for the next head coach at UT.
A – Certainly, all of our searches will start with integrity and doing things the right way. We expect our coach to have the dynamics that will enable him to lead us to where Tennessee football can and should be. Our coach needs to know what that looks like.
Q – How was this decision made in regards to timing with recruiting coming up and comment on reports that coach Jones may be swinging recruits away from Tennessee.
A – Any decision we make that affects student-athletes and our staff and university we always make those decisions with those interests in mind. I find that speculative stuff silly. I trust Butch Jones and his character.
Q – Why the decision now as opposed to after Vanderbilt and was Butch Jones relieved for any cause.
A – Coach Jones was relieved without cause. As far as the timing, the decisions we make should always be made with the best interest of our student-athletes in mind. I believed as we went throughout the season, even though there were moments of frustration, there were also moments of optimism. I wanted to give our coaches and student-athletes the best possible chance to be successful. I believe that was best under coach Jones' leadership.
Q – Was Butch Jones given the chance to coach the last two games.
A – Coach Jones and I met this morning and discussed the situation where we were as a program. We came to a mutual decision about the last couple of games. I believe it's the right decision for all concerned.
Q -- Recruiting is so important and Vanderbilt is supposed to be big weekend, what is your message to recruits that may have opened up their recruiting to maybe give you time to hire someone before they make a final decision.
A – Certainly, recruiting is he lifeblood of what we do while attracting great student-athletes to the University of Tennessee. All the intangibles that make this program and university, the city of Knoxville, the history of Neyland Stadium, the facilities, academic support and high graduation rates, those are things that will continue to be attractive to those student-athletes.
Q – How much did the early signing period impact your decision, how much tougher did it make your decision when to do this, and how will it affect the timeline to find a successor.
A – The early signing period Dec. 20-22 is new. It's uncharted territory for all of us to some extent. Ultimately we have to make the best decisions in the interest of the student-athletes at the University of Tennessee right now, students who are approaching graduation, some of who are playing their final games at Neyland Stadium over the next few days. We also have to look at the long-term future of our program. It's a variable that's new, but the core values and how we make decisions remain the same.
Q – Who will you lean on or will you have a committee for the coach search and will you hire a search firm to help with this process.
A -- So, I'm fortunate and blessed that we have a great team internally throughout the department that love and serve the University of Tennessee, some of them for many years, while we have this search, which is my sole purpose. We have a lot of other stuff going on. We had two teams competing today, one at home and one on the road. I've got a soccer team in the NCAA playoffs in the next round next week and we've got a big football game next week and we've got a lot of work to do. I've been able to develop good relationships across collegiate athletics and I'll rely on some of those relationships, as well as folks from around this community.
Q -- What made you decide on Brady Hoke to be the interim head coach.
A – Certainly, there are nine full-time coaches and coach (Steve) Stripling (director of football operations) we could have chosen. Brady Hoke is a three-time conference coach of the year in three different conferences and has won at the highest level. He was an appropriate choice. I commend Brady Hoke, we had him immediately in the office after my discussions with coach Jones and I gave him the opportunity to serve as interim coach. We talked about student-athletes about to play their final two games of the year and that was his focus. I appreciate his leadership and selflessness at this time.
Q – Talk about the report where VFL coordinator Antoine Davis informed you that he felt like he had been treated with hostility by Butch Jones.
A – We wish Antoine the best in his future pursuits. Those reports had nothing to do with this decision.
Q – Do you think you need to hire someone that has head coaching experience.
A – We need to hire the best coach for the University of Tennessee. There are a lot of different experiences out there that are relevant to our environment. Certainly, we need to hire someone that understands the magnitude that comes along with this job, and the opportunities that come along with being the head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Q – Will the buyout for coach Jones and the rest of the staff that will have to be paid, what kind of money are we talking about here.
A – I believe, as it relates to coach Jones specifically, that's somewhere in the $8.5 million range and our assistant coaches are on two-year contracts and all together it's in the $13 million range. That is mitigated, of course, as it's quite possible some may be retained on our next staff or they would find jobs elsewhere. We understand that's a significant amount of money and a significant investment and we don't take that lightly. On the other side, we're fortunate that we have the ability to manage that without impacting our day-to-day operations, our ability to attract our next coach, or our ability to keep marching forward with some the projects we've talked about recently.
Q – In this hiring process, will money be an issue for getting the top candidate you want and, as the athletic director, you are tied with the head football coach. How much pressure do you feel that your signature hire is right in front of you.
A – In terms of money, we could always use some more around here, but we have the resources to make the right decision to select the next leader of our football program. In terms of me, I'm really superfluous in terms of legacies and understand the enormous responsibility with leading a process like this.
Q – You weren't here when Butch Jones was hired, but the perspective is that you came into a major rebuilding job. What is your perspective about what the next coach is coming into and the chances he can win early.
A – There are a number of different elements. We all know our conference continues to become more competitive than it always has been despite ideas that it's down or not down or whatever. That's an ongoing level of competitiveness all across the game. We're fortunate that coach Jones and his staff changed the culture from an academic perspective. I would tell you that our Thornton Center staff and people on campus appreciate the fact this outgoing staff has made our academic excellence and academic achievement an expectation for our student-athletes. We sit here with the highest graduation rate and APR scores in our history in football. So those things make it better for the next staff and that's something coach Jones had to overcome right away. We also have an extraordinary facility in the Anderson Training Center, which was still near completion when coach Jones arrived. The city of Knoxville continues to blossom, the university community has continued to become better and better in terms of the esthetics and beauty of the campus. The academic reputation of our university has continued to grow; there are a lot of great things about this university, not to mention a hundred-thousand seat stadium and passionate fans.
Q – What was your message to the team.
A – I spoke to the team earlier today. Coach Jones spoke to the team first. I followed. I thanked them for their continued commitment to doing the right things: focusing on LSU, focusing on the game after that and the fact we have exams coming up. Obviously, they respect our out-going head coach, but they're also committed to being Tennessee Volunteers and doing things the right way.
Q – How much will you rely on coach (Phillip) Fulmer and you're honoring the 1997 championship team this weekend and is that a uniting kind of thing during this transition.
A – Coach Fulmer is an extraordinary resource for us in lots of ways and I do regulary talk to him about various aspects of the program. I did talk to him this morning after I met with coach Jones because I wanted him to be aware of where we were. We have a number of great resources around here. I sent a note out earlier to our VFL football alumni and he opportunity we have with the 1997 team reuniting this weekend is a gain a reminder to us all of what it looks like for the University of Tennessee, what it's supposed to look. At the same time, we have young men that have played their hearts out and they've played during some extraordinary circumstances and injuries, speculation and they've continued to bring it every game. I believe all of our former players understand that more than anyone. I know our former players and fans will rally behind our team this weekend and again against Vanderbilt the next weekend.
Q – From a personal standpoint, how difficult was this decision. In your first season as athletic direct, it's probably the last thing you wanted to do.
A – I have a tremendous respect for coach Jones, for Barb. They poured everything into making our program better, and our program is better than it was when they arrived five years ago. These are difficult things, they're hard things. I couldn't be more proud of the way as we continued to battle adversary over the last five or six weeks at how coach Jones has stuck to his values. He had to suspend a couple of really important players a few weeks ago before we played at Kentucky and what he said about that was, "I'm not compromising our values." My admiration for him has only grown in this process. He was an absolute professional when we talked this morning. He cares about his team. He cares about his coaching staff and he cares about the University of Tennessee.
Q – What was coach Jones' reaction when you informed him and did he try to talk you out of your decision.
A -- We had a very appropriate and professional discussion and continued to have interactions over the next several hours as we worked through the logistics. He cares abou the student-athlete and cares about the coaches and he cares about this university.
Q – Just to be clear, do you plan to use a search firm.
A – Not at this time.
Q – What caused this to happen. What went wrong.
A – Well, we're standing here right now because we haven't won enough.
Q – A lot of rumors are out there, so how do you navigate through that. Jon Gruden's name has been thrown out there a bunch, is there anything you can say to Tennessee fans about Jon Gruden and does the timeline with Dec. 20 and the signing period, does that impact NFL coaches possibly being candidates in the process.
A – In terms of navigating, the most important thing for me to do is not add to misinformation. So, I will not be making any kind of comments or responses to any candidate or specific rumors. As I told our team when I met with them earlier, unless they've heard it from me directly they should not believe it. We will respect the integrity of the process. I know that's difficult for all of you, as you have your job to do, which I certainly respect, even those that greet me in the parking garage as I arrive early in the morning. I respect your desire to ask those questions very much. My responsibility is to conduct a process as efficiently and effectively as possible. For our student-athletes who are in a time of uncertainty, both our current student-athletes and future student-athletes, I owe them everything I have in that regard.
Q – The new coach will be the fifth coach in 11 seasons, will the perception of instability be a challenge persuading the coach to take this position.
A – I believe the opportunities at the University of Tennessee are extraordinary. There are so many things about the fundamental fabric of our program and university. This is the most beautiful city in our conference. This is a special, vibrant place. We've got a great university, an outstanding chancellor (Kim Davenport), who has done a super job connecting to our students and faculty. This is a wonderful opportunity. If you look out in the realm of college athletics, certainly the kind of turnover we've had is not optimal, but at the same time, with a couple of exceptions, the old days of having someone for 15, 20 or 30 years just doesn't existe anymore. Transition is part of our enterprise and preparedness for transition is part of my responsibility.
Q – At what point did you know you'd have to make this decision.
A – Really, late last night it was evident that probably this was the direction we needed to go for the best of all concerned. Again, we have two games left to play and we want our student-athletes to have the best possible chance for success. We want coach Jones and his family to be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. We want to be able to focus, from my perspective, on the search going forward. None of us want to be in this position, but we are in this position and now we move forward.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter at larryfleming44)