“I stepped into a situation where my mentor, the person that gave me my first job in 1993, Ron Wellman, has really left a solid foundation. I’m very fortunate.” -Wake Forest Director of Athletics John Currie
John Currie assumed the role of Director of Athletics at Wake Forest in May of this year. He was offered the helm after Ron Wellman planned to retire following 27 years as the university’s AD.
“The thoughtful and organized way the board, the President and Ron organized his departure has been very helpful,” Currie explains. “When I was introduced, they gave me two months where Ron gave me immediate access to the staff. It was a big change for them, a change in continuity. I was able to do about 100 meetings with staff members before I took over, then those continued through the summer.”
In that time, from when he was announced as AD in March to when he actually took over in May, Currie tells CollegeAD he was able to build relationships with his future staff and colleges, as well as key contributors to Wake Forest. He’s also got a chance to reintroduce himself to the campus he left in 2000.
“It’s a very special place, my wife and I met here, I spent 10 years here in the nineties. Everything I have in my personal and professional life begins at Wake Forest. My ethical foundation was developed under Ron Wellman.”
As John Currie returns to Wake Forest, where he worked for six years before going on to become the athletic director at Kansas State, for eight years, and Tennessee, for eight months, it’s a homecoming in many ways.
“I’m really proud of what we accomplished in my 11 years at Tennessee, in three different stints, even though the last one was a bit shorter than might have been expected. I will always have a huge place for Kansas State in my heart with the 8 years we spent building a successful model, but being at Wake Forest, where it all began is really special.”
While Curie is grateful for his past with the institution, his focus is now squarely on the future. The McCreary Field House, the new indoor practice facility for Demon Deacon athletics, opened in the spring of 2016. The 80,000 square-foot structure features a 120-yard football field and weightlifting facilities for the Wake Forest football team. The McCreary Field House was the first phase of a planned $58 million project that also included a Sports Performance Center.
“It’s remarkable, Wake Forest facilities look as good as anyone else’s in the country, and we have the added benefit of those facilities being right on campus. That’s one of the many things that’s great about being a student-athlete at Wake Forest, you are right on campus.”
He says they have more plans in the works, the Shah Basketball facility is the second basketball facility for the university. The Miller Center was the first and will now be connected to the McCreary Field House via the Shah Complex.
“We now have two full-size practice gymnasiums in our quadrant, we have some renovations going on in our academic center, our locker rooms, but down the road, we’ll have to look really hard at Joel Coliseum that has served Wake Forest now for 30 years. We will need to develop a long-term plan for renovation and improvements there.”
It’s not just facilities on his radar, it’s the overall fan experience. The university launched, I’m a Fan Zone, this year. Featuring free live music, food trucks, Lowes Food Beer Den and a wide range of activities for fans of all ages, the I’m A Fan Zone opens three hours prior to kickoff in front of McCreary Tower.
“We have goals that we’ve set for our program. World-class student-athlete experience, integrity, academic excellence, providing value for Winston Salem and the Triad, winning championships and having the best fan experience in North Carolina. The decisions we make should fit within those goals.”
I’m a Fan Zone followed a grassroots initiative called I’m a Fan. The initiative was aimed at building awareness about the athletics at Wake Forest and presented an opportunity for fans to get involved. Currie described how the Athletic department went door to door offering I’m a Fan signs, how they encouraged even their furthest fans to display their pride and share pictures with Wake Forest.
“I had people in Texas sending me their I’m a Fan signs, we printed thousands, they are up in the North East and Charlotte as well,” he said.
He says their student interns hung door hangers on 9,000 doors in the Triad as a part of the grassroots effort to get Wake Forest fans engaged. He also explained that the season ticket is still the anchor of their fan revenue model on the ticket side of things. However, they are looking at strategic ways to push single game packages for the more casual fan.
“What we did this year for Utah State, which was our highest attended game since we played NC State to open to the 2011 season, was we discounted tickets early. There was an emphasis on giving people that made early commitments the best deal.”
Currie says it’s all a part of being aggressive with their single-game tickets and creating an atmosphere fans will want to enjoy week after week.
“In the context of the Power Five, we are about the smallest institutional enrollment, and yet we live in an awesome community, there are 1.6 million people within 30 minutes of our stadium. We want to create that hospitality of inviting people into our venues. I’m a Fan really signifies that you don’t have to be a Wake Forest graduate, you can just be a fan of college athletics, the ACC or the Power 5, right here at Wake Forest.”