Embracing Tradition

John Currie won't be boarding a Southern Pacific for his journey west out of Knoxville, Tenn., but Kansas State's newly named director of athletics does say he plans to revisit the pages of Stephen Ambrose's writing of "Nothing Like It In The World."

That was the tale of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad from Omaha, Neb., to Sacramento, Calif., in the 1860s when a total of 1,700 miles of parallel tracks traveled through a half-dozen states.

Currie, you see, is a history buff: "I honestly thought I would be a high school history teacher and coach soccer, or baseball."

Instead, Monday in the Legend's Room of Bramlage Coliseum, Currie was introduced as K-State's 15th AD, which carries a five-year base contract of what a high school teacher makes ... plus add a zero ($350,000).

Currie's journey west will last no more than a couple hours as he jets around 800 miles over four states before touching down in the Little Apple.

Instead of dealing with President Abraham Lincoln and the likes of Generals Sherman and Grant, his discussions will be with KSU President Dr. Kirk Schulz, and an existing staff of associates and assistants.

"I am counting on John to run the athletic department," said Schulz. "I will be at the games cheering on our athletes, but I will not be involved in the scheduling or the day-to-day operations. I am counting on John Currie to run the department. I will stay out of his way, but support him when he needs it."

And that includes the hiring/firing of profile coaches. From Currie, Schulz says he wants to hear: "Here's what the situation is, and here's what my recommendation is."

Head of the selection committee, Amy Button Renz said that Currie quickly surfaced to the top of a field of 47 official candidates.

"He had energy and a tremendous fund raising background," Button Renz said. "We were so impressed with how he relates with people and the passion he has for student-athletes."

Yes, it's a youthful all new era at K-State with an SEC flavor as a 45-year-old transfer from Mississippi State is leading the University, and a 38-year mature Currie is making the move from the University of Tennessee where he served as executive associate athletics director for the Volunteers.

The hands-off policy of Schulz - "John Currie will have complete freedom and flexibility." -- is just one of the ingredients that was intriguing enough to convince him to make the move to K-State.

"Early-on, he let it be known that I would be here to run the program, and to be accountable for the program. That was very important to me," said Currie, who was accompanied by his wife, Mary Lawrence, while his three children - Jack, Virginia and Mary-Dell - stayed in Knoxville. "Like the Provost is in academics, I will be responsible for athletics. Tell me what you want, and I'll do it, and be held accountable."

Currie scored high in all areas Monday starting with his highest priority. Kansas State is about its people, and it was evident that Currie is a people person.

"I know K-State has terrific fans, or customers, and it's my goal to take care of our people. If I don't, they will develop other options for their dollars and their time," Currie said. "We want every person in the K-State Nation to understand that we are their school and that the athletic program exists to serve them."

Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman called Currie, "... one of the rising stars in our profession," and Todd A. Diacon, UT's faculty representative said, "John is one of the new breed of ADs, meaning his background is not coaching, but rather athletics administration and development."

As for Currie's age ... not a factor.

"I looked at his fund raising background, his enthusiasm and his experience in a major athletic program," Schulz said. "Had John been 60 with the same qualifications, we would be happy to have him. He just happens to be a younger guy."

Schulz added, "At times younger people don't know what we can't do."

Of his own age, Currie said, "God has a plan for all of us, and here I am."

While K-State is perceived as family, it was evident that the same is true with Currie. His voice was emotion-filled when talking of his grandparents, parents and those in the profession who took him under their wings and schooled him on flying in the area of intercollegiate athletics. All were individuals who taught him to be a "pretty straight-up guy," who likes to "... sink my roots in and dig in deep."

But Currie understands there's an education awaiting him: * Tennessee had a budget of $87 million and a football stadium of 100,000-plus. K-State's numbers are $40 million and 50,000 seats.

To that, Currie, who has worked within the vastness and wealth of Tennessee, and the quaintness of a marginally funded of Wake Forest, says, "We understand that the biggest checkbook doesn't always win."

He added, "Kansas State has always done more with less and beaten the big-budget schools." * Asked about the feedlot and wheat field ways of western Kansas, Currie reflected to his days at Wake Forest when he accompanied a man named Rex Carter to his cotton and peanut fields. "I still have a bowl of cotton picked up from Rex's cotton gin. I'm looking forward to learning about the wheat fields and cattle of Kansas." * Of the KSU challenges, Currie first mentioned its people: "First who, then what." He added that he would lend an attentive ear to each and every Wildcat coach on what they feel the most challenging challenges are.

In summary, Currie, who will make his east-to-west arrival in Manhattan on June 7, said, "We want Kansas State to be known for doing it the right way, whether it be in academics, athletics, or development. We want people to say 'Kansas State' right off the top as one of the schools that does it the right way. We might not outspend everybody, but we can still have a model Intercollegiate Athletics Program." Currie appears to be a model of what today's blueprint of an AD. He demonstrated an appreciation for K-State's past, and one who is fearless in approaching the immediate challenges. Just like those railroaders did in the 1860s.

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