After strong year, new Wake AD’s mission: ‘Don’t mess it up’
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — During his first year on the job, new Wake Forest athletic director John Currie wants to keep the momentum going with the Demon Deacons on a roll.
Wake Forest is coming off its best finish in the Director’s Cup in more than a decade. New buildings have opened up across campus.
“The first responsibility,” Currie quipped, “is don’t mess it up.”
Currie was hired in March and took over for the retired Ron Wellman on May 1, inheriting a department that’s on relatively solid footing overall following a 36th place finish in the Director’s Cup, awarded to the nation’s top overall athletic department overall.
That’s the highest the school has finished since 2007 and a 12-spot improvement from 2018, buoyed by national runner-up finishes in men’s tennis and women’s golf.
“A match and a stroke away” from two national titles, Currie said. “That’s pretty incredible.”
The school also opened its sports performance center and its new men’s basketball practice facility earlier this summer, a $50 million project that complements the football program’s 3-year-old indoor practice facility.
With those ambitious construction projects finishing up, a top priority for Currie is to become familiar with the department’s roughly 200 staff members and coaches.
The 1993 Wake Forest graduate who previously worked as AD at Kansas State and Tennessee says he met individually with more than half of them during the three months he’s held the job. He’s also met with several deans and vice presidents at the university.
“There’s a lot of great stuff already in place here,” Currie said. “A big responsibility of mine is to take the time to listen.”
The department under Currie has been aggressive in marketing the football program to the Winston-Salem community, and he says the single-game ticket sales for the Aug. 30 home opener against Utah State is up about 2,000 from where it usually is in early August.
Of course, it helps that Dave Clawson’s program is on an upswing, coming off its third straight bowl victory and late-season victories over instate rivals North Carolina State and Duke, beating the Wolfpack for the second straight year and routing the Blue Devils 59-7.
“You can make a case we have the best program in the state,” Currie said. “Certainly, we have a tremendous coach who’s the perfect fit for Wake Forest in coach Clawson, and we had fun turning it out a bit on the grassroots marketing, if you will.”
Currie also said another priority is getting the men’s and women’s basketball teams — “both of which have been a little bit down,” he said — turned around.
The school is bringing back Danny Manning for a sixth year despite losing 19 games in four of his first five seasons and three 11-20 finishes. Jen Hoover’s women’s program is coming off its second straight losing season, a 10-20 finish that included a 1-15 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Currie hopes a fast start by the football team can set a tone of success for the entire department that carries through the year.
“It’s not just about (sports) being the front porch of the university,” Currie said. “It’s about athletics representing the hospitality of the university, and hospitality means you reach out and invite people in, even if they don’t know much about you. Invite them to come into the house, so to speak. And so the house for us is BB&T Field.”