On August 16, 1993, newly hired Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman called a promising young undergraduate into his office and offered him an internship.
His name was John Currie.
Monday afternoon, Wellman once again called Currie to his side to congratulate him on his hiring to a new job with the Deacons. Only this time it was to introduce his one-time protégé as his successor.
It’s an opportunity he called “a dream come true,” even though he readily admitted to never imagining it possible that first time he walked into the Deacons’ athletic office all those year ago.
“The best of everything I have in my adult life, my wife and family, my professional values, my career and my friendships, begins with Wake Forest,” Currie said. “As a rookie administrator, I was lucky and blessed to watch and learn from people like Ron.”
Because of his connection with Wellman and his understanding of his alma mater’s unique culture, university president Nathan O. Hatch called Currie “the perfect fit to follow in the footsteps of his mentor.”
Those footsteps, however, are formidable.
In addition to being one of the most respected athletic administrators in the country, Wellman is also the longest-tenured AD in Division I, having spent the past 27 years in Winston-Salem.
During his time with the Deacons, he presided over a program that has won national championships in tennis, men’s soccer and field hockey while winning an ACC title in football in 2006. Away from the field of competition, Wake has experienced considerable growth in its athletic facilities under his leadership while raising more than $400 million in philanthropic support for athletics.
Wellman said that his decision to retire was made last fall and finalized on the day of the Deacons’ football victory against Atlantic Division rival NC State on November 8. He chose not to immediately announce his plans because he didn’t think he could “be effective as a lame duck.”
The outgoing AD said he will spend his final two months on the job helping Currie get settled into his new position, something his predecessor Gene Hooks did for him back in 1992.
“Transitions are very challenging,” Wellman said. “But that man (Hooks) showed me how to make a transition and how to be supportive of the new guy on the block.”
Currie isn’t exactly unfamiliar with his surroundings, having stayed on at Wake after his graduation, learning at Wellman’s side first as the assistant director of the Deacon Club, then as an assistant to the athletic director.
The 47-year-old Chapel Hill native eventually left for Tennessee before taking over his own program at Kansas State, where he led a program that nearly doubled its athletic budget and significantly improved its facilities. His ability as a fundraiser helped him earn mention as one of the Sports Business Journal’s Forty under 40 list in 2011 and the Bobby Dodd Athletic Director Award two years later.
Although he’s spent a considerable time away from his alma mater, Currie said that “Wake Forest values” have carried him throughout his career.
It’s a career that, despite its successes, has become clouded by controversy because of his dismissal as Tennessee’s AD in 2017 after just eight months on the job.
Currie’s problems in Knoxville stemmed from the backlash created by his attempt to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as the Volunteers’ new football coach. Schiano’s candidacy was tainted by his collection to the Gerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.
When several other coaches subsequently turned down the Tennessee job, including NC State’s Dave Doeren, Currie was relieved of his duties and replaced by popular former Vols coach Phil Fulmer. He has since served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York and a consultant for the University of Texas.
When asked about Currie’s ouster at Tennessee, Wake president Hatch said that his new AD emerged from the experience stronger and wiser, and able to appreciate what he accomplished in his short tenure.” Wellman added that “There isn’t an athletic director or commissioner in the conference who wouldn’t say positive things about John Currie.
“I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the future of this department,” Wellman said. “I am as excited today about our future as I’ve been at any point in my career.”