Dave Currey, a former Division I college football coach who went on to spend 25 years as athletic director at Chapman University, died Saturday following an illness. He was 80.
In a message to the Chapman community earlier this week, university President Daniele Struppa described Currey as “kind, warmhearted, funny, honest to his core, and famously frugal.”
“That sums him up,” current Chapman athletic director Terry Boesel said. “He was all those things.”
A former player at Samford University, Currey coached St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura to a state title in 1968 and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2010. After spending seven seasons as offensive coordinator at Stanford, Currey was the head coach at Long Beach State from 1977 to 1983 and at Cincinnati from 1984 to 1988, then spent one season as receivers coach at UCLA.
When Currey was hired as Chapman’s athletic director in 1990, the university had only nine varsity sports with 150 student-athletes and was struggling to compete as an NCAA Division II school. By the time Currey retired in 2015, Chapman featured 20 varsity sports with nearly 500 student-athletes and was thriving as a member of the Division III Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“Dave was a great fundraiser and friend builder,” said Jim Doti, who was Chapman’s president from 1991 to 2016. “Everybody liked him. He had a great sense of humor, real up spirit and that’s what makes a difference in fundraising. We raised a lot of money to build this program.”
Mary Cahill, who has been women’s volleyball coach at Chapman since 1989, credits “the atmosphere [Currey] created here in the athletic department” as one of the reasons why she and other coaches have hung around for multiple decades.
Currey was such a character that Cahill said he once showed up to a staff holiday party dressed as Santa Claus.
“We still laugh about that,” Cahill said. “You know, just little things like that made the department special.”
Football coach Bob Owens, who was hired by Currey in 2006, said he and the longtime AD would often take five-mile walks together before work.
“Fitness was certainly part of it. And fun was part of it,” Owens said of the outings. “Sometimes we were solving problems and sometimes we were just having fun and having a good time. We enjoyed the camaraderie.”
The mention of Currey’s frugality never fails to elicit a chuckle from members of the Chapman community. Carol Jue, who has coached the women’s basketball team for 21 years, remembered the time when Currey bought his wife, Elaine, one piece of jewelry to serve as a present for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and her birthday.
“I said, ‘Coach! What are you saving your money for?’” Jue said with a laugh.
Then there was the time Doti suggested a group of staff members go out for an Italian dinner. Currey made the arrangements.
“And he came up with Olive Garden,” Doti said. “He said, ‘All those other places are way too expensive. And they’ve got great breadsticks — and they’re free!’”
But, Doti added, Currey’s thrifty nature is one of the many qualities that made him great at what he did.
“Why waste money on a dinner when you could be saving it for more important things like paying your coaches a decent salary, having great equipment, getting that extra piece of equipment in our fitness center?” Doti said.
“People knew he was frugal, so they were more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and provide that kind of philanthropy and financial support because they knew it would be well taken care of and wouldn’t be wasted.”
Currey is survived by his wife of 18 years, Elaine; son John-David, daughter-in-law Michelle and their children, Jenna and Ben; and daughter Tracey Riness, son-in-law Clayton and their children, Owen, Phoebe and Piper.