With four jobs now open — Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee — here’s the latest news and gossip concerning each SEC coaching search:
Razorbacks AD Jeff Long reportedly met with the Arkansas team yesterday and told them that his timetable for hiring a new coach is 10-14 days. The fact that Long had an eight-month head start on all other schools but didn’t have a hire ready to announce as soon as the season ended isn’t sitting well with many Hog fans. So long as Arkansas finds the right guy, all will be fine in the long run. But in this day and age, fans aren’t going to be patient.
Reports have already tied Arkansas to TCU’s Gary Patterson. We believe UA representatives spoke with Patterson’s reps before a breakdown in discussions a couple of weeks back. This communication could kick up again, but at the moment it appears Patterson will stay put in Fort Worth.
Jon Gruden was reportedly offered the Razorbacks job and turned it down last week. It’s also been reported that Arkansas officials reached out to representatives for Vanderbilt’s James Franklin (though VU athletic director David Williams has said he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his coach in Nashville). A new name has been added to big-spending Arkansas’ wish list — that of Boise State’s Chris Petersen — but it’s unlikely he’ll move. He’s turned down just about every premier job in the country at this point and it’s quite possible that he saw what happened to Dan Hawkins when he left Boise for Colorado. Perhaps Petersen would rather be a big fish in a small pond than vice versa.
The fact that UA has been tied to so many coaches suggests that Long really didn’t do a whole lotta agent-contacting before season’s end. Fair or not, many in the UA fanbase believe the AD failed to do enough legwork during the season.
And anyone hoping Arkansas would rush back and rehire Bobby Petrino can likely forget that one. Long made a point of saying this weekend that UA will look for a coach with “discipline, honesty and integrity.” You can bet Long doesn’t feel Petrino fits those criteria.
With NCAA officials on AU’s trail — again — and coming off a 3-9 season capped by a 49-0 beatdown by Alabama, Gene Chizik was blown up yesterday as expected. The man who hired Iowa State’s 5-19 coach four years ago — AD Jay Jacobs — had this to say: “After careful consideration and a thorough evaluation of our football program, I have recommended that Coach Chizik not be retained. President (Jay) Gogue has accepted my recommendation. Earlier this morning, I informed Gene that he will not return as head coach.”
Jacobs won’t be running a one-man search this time around as a group of former Auburn players (Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan, Mac Crawford) will aid the athletic director. Perhaps it’s better than allowing Jacobs to make another hire by his lonesome, but we’re not sure Bo Knows how to find a football coach. Sullivan is the current coach at Samford, so how he has time to help Auburn in its search is anyone’s guess. Crawford is a former Tiger fullback turned “CEO turnaround expert,” according to Jacobs.
Chizik and his staff will receive a total buyout of $11.09 million. Jacobs said yesterday that AU “will move as quickly as possible in the search” but he would not discuss candidates. Petrino’s name was mentioned to MrSEC.com by more than one Auburn source over the past month, but that talk has cooled quite a bit since then.
Former Chizik assistant and current Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart — now that would be an eye-opening hire — and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher are all believed to be candidates on the Plains. One industry source told this site that Fisher would prefer Auburn’s opening to Tennessee’s due to AU’s close proximity to his current recruiting base in Tallahassee, but it’s likely Fisher and agent Jimmy Sexton will simply flirt with both schools in an effort to gain more power, money or both at FSU.
Jeff Fisher’s name has also been kicked around, but we can’t see the St. Louis Rams coach — who makes $7 million a season — leaving the NFL for the college ranks. Vandy’s Franklin has been listed as a possibility as well.
The fact that Chizik was fired at all proves that we are now in an age when coaches are literally only as good as their last season. Just two years ago, Chizik was lifting the BCS crystal football. Now he’ll be lifting the hatch on a U-Haul to clear out his office. Remarkable, really.
UK officials had to downplay reports last week that they had offered the Wildcats’ job to Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones. Reports over the weekend suggested that Jones might actually be stringing the Cats along in hopes of getting his name into the mix at Tennessee.
From the day Joker Phillips was ousted, two up-and-comer coaches have repeatedly been tied to Kentucky’s job: Lousiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre. Dykes was once an assistant at Kentucky under Hal Mumme and he’s created a powerful offense in Ruston. MacIntyre is the son of former Vandy coach George MacIntyre and he’s served as an assistant at both Ole Miss and Georgia. He also has ties back to UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart via Barnhart contacts Bill Parcells and David Cutcliffe.
If we were betting, we’d put our money on MacIntyre because our sources tell us he’s a real hotshot-to-be who can sell a program (which is a need at UK). That said, it’s been reported that UK has interviewed Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops for its job, too. Mark served as the D-coordinator at Arizona under his brother Mike Stoops before moving to Tallahassee in 2009. He is the younger brother of Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He also has a profile that seems to fit Barnhart’s past hires.
Another name being whispered these days belongs to Utah State’s Gary Anderson, but we believe Anderson trails MacIntyre, Dykes and Stoops. Jones, too, depending on whether or not Jones/UK can rekindle their talks.
Cutcliffe was expected to be a candidate by many, but he’s signed an extension at Duke. Many, many Wildcat fans are in favor of grabbing Petrino, but it’s not believed Barnhart will even consider the seemingly radioactive ex-Arkansas coach.
Gruden, Gruden, Gruden, Gruden and Gruden. If the next Vol coach isn’t named Gruden — and that’s Jon, not Jay — a lot of orange-clad folks are going to be awfully upset. According to our sources, they’d better prepare to be upset.
Despite a remarkable series of “it’s a done deal” rumors, Gruden has always been a longshot to leave the ESPN announcing booth, bypass possible NFL openings, and land back in the college game for the first time in 20 years. Last week, we reported that Gruden’s monetary demands had dropped a tad and that that had brought his status back into play, but by week’s end one source close to the UT situation told us the deal was “as dead as Marley’s ghost.”
Interestingly, Tennessee AD Dave Hart seems to believe that he can land a big-name coach for Tennessee. He has ties to Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops who is believed to be tiring of hard-to-satisfy Oklahoma fans. As we’ve said regarding Georgia’s Mark Richt, once a coach serves at a place for a decade, it’s probably time to start looking elsewhere… but rarely do coaches actually do that. (Which is why veteran coaches usually get run out of town as soon as there’s a downturn. Just ask Tommy Tuberville or Phillip Fulmer.)
With Stoops making $4.5 million, it’s doubtful UT can land him. But Hart also has ties to Florida State’s Fisher who was hired as the Seminoles’ coach-in-waiting while Hart was AD in Tallahassee. Fisher makes $2.7 million and UT has the cash to give him quite a bump. But would he leave a rolling program in an easy conference — yes, we know he’s not thrilled with the ACC — for a fixer-upper in the world’s toughest conference? Unlikely.
Fallback candidates appear to be Miami’s Al Golden, Louisville’s Charlie Strong (who hasn’t helped his cause with two straight losses to Syracuse and UConn), and possibly Jones from Cincinnati.
There are also rumors in Missouri that head coach Gary Pinkel will step aside following a 5-7 season, but it’s unlikely he’ll really do so. Indeed, no media folks in the Show-Me State seem to be taking the rumors as anything more than just messageboard chatter started by Tiger fans disappointed with their school’s first SEC season.
The four SEC schools that do have openings will be competing with Boston College, California, Colorado, Purdue and NC State when it comes to grabbing a coach. As we pointed out several weeks ago, NCSU AD Debbie Yow promoted Vandy’s Franklin to coach-in-waiting at Maryland before she departed College Park for Raleigh.
Also remember this, it’s very rare for a “name” coach to take a step down the ladder in his career. When coaches need to recharge their batteries — Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier — they usually try the NFL game. You don’t often see a coach at Top 20 program leave his gigs for a rebuilding job elsewhere unless the rebuilding job happens to be the coach’s alma mater (Johnny Majors at Tennessee) or the coach is trying to escape fans who want his head (Bill Curry from Alabama to Kentucky, Houston Nutt from Arkansas to Ole Miss).