Some Tennessee fans either think or wish that athletic director John Currie would be watching and analyzing every move Vols head football coach Butch Jones is making leading up to his team's home game against South Carolina at noon on Saturday.

With a 3-2 record and the Gamecocks on deck, followed by road games at Alabama and Kentucky, this is of course a key stretch through October for the Volunteers program and its fifth-year head coach.

But, even though official reports this week have Currie and Jones "in constant dialogue," Currie was true to his previous commitment and on Thursday served as guest speaker at the Orangeburg Touchdown Club at The Cinema.

Having worked in the Wake Forest athletic department for two different stints in his career, this is Currie's second stint in Knoxville working for the Vols program. A search committee that included alum Peyton Manning talked him into returning from Kansas State University to become athletic director and vice chancellor this past February.

"There's a lot of talk about the game of football out there in the world right now," Currie said. "But, what we know is that the game of football has never been safer than it is right now.

"And we know that the students in our community and our society who are playing football are more successful in their life and they are more likely to be in college, become graduates and become employed."

Off the field, Currie said that he sees the disappointment from fans when things don't go the way they envision them going.

"Nobody's happy; nobody's fans are happy," he said. "Some fans aren't happy because their team is winning by so much, half the stadium is leaving in the third quarter of games.

"Others aren't happy because they didn't win by enough or because they got beat. What we've got to worry about on a day-to-day basis on our campuses is are we providing the fundamental environment for students to have a great experience and be successful, both on the field and in the classroom."

According to the most recent numbers, Tennessee student-athletes across 20 sports have the highest academic performance rating and best graduation rate of any group in the history of the program.

"We are very proud of those ratings and rates," Currie said. "We are also very proud that that student-athletes at the University of Tennessee last year served about 5,500 hours of community service.

"They were in 23 different schools around the Knoxville area, they impacted about 95 different organizations with their time. In college athletics today, we are providing the best environment ever for success."

Currie pointed out that every fan and athletic department booster who buys a ticket or donates monetary support to a program is a part of shaping the environment for student-athletes to succeed and receive the complete collegiate experience. But he also realizes the fan experience needs to be as enjoyable as possible for every fan who attends a game in any sport.

"We have a goal at the University of Tennessee to have the best fan experience in the Southeastern Conference," he said. "Part of that is hospitality. Our stadium (Neyland Stadium, built in 1921) seats 100,000 and we've had great attendance for games this year.

"But college athletics has to work hard to avoid the intensity that bleeds into negativity. When Gamecock fans come to Knoxville this weekend, we want to greet them with a smile and welcome them to Rocky Top. Now, when the South Carolina team is on the field, our fans are going to yell and scream and be intense. We want that. But we want all of our facilities to be welcoming for all fans, in a collegial environment."

Also at Thursday's OTC meeting, Lake Marion's Tymell Grant and Denmark-Olar's Dentel Nelson were recognized as ATI Physical Therapy Players of the Week for their performances in Week 7 games.

Next week's OTC meeting is set for Thursday, Oct. 19 at The Cinema, with the meal at 11:30 a.m. and the meeting at noon. Guest speaker for the meeting will be Presbyterian head football coach Tommy Spangler.


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