Yesterday we caught you up on the coaching murmurs we’ve heard in talking to people at Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as an industry source. Everyone’s got their own sources but we feel confident enough in ours to state again that we’re hearing:
* John L. Smith is finished at Arkansas (whether he wants to admit it or not) and TCU’s Gary Patterson — who gave the most non-denial denial ever when asked about it — is AD Jeff Long’s top choice as a replacement. We think this one pretty far down the pike, too.
* Gene Chizik is thisclose to having the curtain fall on him at Auburn and surprisingly Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher continues to be connected to the job. There’s no question he dislikes having a one-loss team that’s out of the BCS title picture due to the ACC’s perceived weakness — he could remedy that by not losing to a team like NC State or Wake Forest every year — but we believe he may just be making a play for more power on FSU’s campus. If not Chizik, would Bobby Petrino finally land on the Plains?
* Kentucky has already pulled the plug on Joker Phillips and we believe the two most realistic “gets” for AD Mitch Barnhart are Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre. Those names are certainly getting a lot of play from the folks we’ve spoken to.
* Tennessee’s Derek Dooley is done and AD Dave Hart might be done, too, if he bucks the school’s biggest boosters in an effort to save the embattled coach. We don’t think Hart’s that crazy, we just believe he’s trying to mark his territory one year into his Knoxville reign. We’re told that Tommy Tuberville’s name has gained “traction” in recent days — no word on what his slap of a grad assistant might have done to his chances — and that Al Golden will definitely be in UT’s mix as well.
Another name that’s making the rounds today is that of Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. Various outlets have tied Gundy to the Arkansas job, the Auburn job, the Kentucky job and the Tennessee job. Could he wind up at one of those places? Sure. But the fact his name has been connected to all four jobs suggests that either a) some reporters are just throwing out big names for the sake of gaining pageviews or b) Gundy’s agent is throwing his client’s name around in order to remind OSU brass and fans that they’ve got a sought-after coach.
None of our contacts have mentioned Gundy to us in any way other than, “Well, the list could include Coach X, Coach Y, Coach Z, etc.” In other words, we don’t think the Gundy talk is serious, but that could change.
But what about current SEC coaches who might be targets for other programs?
James Franklin’s star continues to rise at Vanderbilt. Yes, his team has played a very weak schedule, but when you’re recruiting well, you’ve gotten Vandy bowl eligible in two straight seasons, and you could lead the Dores to their first eight-win campaign since 1982? Forget the easy schedule. That kind of work will get you noticed.
Rumor has it that Tom O’Brien’s days at North Carolina State could be coming to an end. The Wolfpack is just 6-4 on the season and NCSU fans wanted more from the coach in his sixth season. If he’s ousted, AD Debbie Yow could make a run for Franklin. Yow, after all, was the AD at Maryland who gave Franklin head-coach-in-waiting status as Ralph Friedgen’s offensive coordinator. You know what happened then: Yow went to NC State, Friedgen was forced out, a new Maryland AD had other plans, and Franklin landed at Vanderbilt (a great find by VU AD David Williams, by the way).
Now Yow and Franklin could work together again. If Yow nixes O’Brien. And if Franklin believes NC State of the ACC is a better gig than Vandy of the SEC. Lot of ifs.
This much is certain, however, if Vanderbilt beats Tennessee and Wake Forest to finish 8-4, there will be suitors for Franklin whether Yow comes calling or not.
To the West, Dan Mullen’s star has to be falling a bit. The fourth-year coach has energized Mississippi State’s program and that’s led to an expansion plan for Scott Field. He drove the Bulldogs all the way to #11 in this year’s BCS standings, too. But then the wheels came off. State’s schedule finally turned tough and the Dogs have lost three games in a row.
The work Mullen has done in Starkville will be recognized by plenty of ADs, but the coach has to put the brakes on MSU’s skid or else he’ll be a hard sell to any fanbase, fair or not. Just as hoops coaches can land great jobs after a single Sweet Sixteen run, football coaches on losing skids can witness their cell phones go silent. “What have you done for me lately,” always applies.
One thing to keep an eye on is whether or not any of the SEC’s “bigger” programs make a run at either Franklin or Mullen. It’s happened before. Tommy Tuberville left Ole Miss for Auburn. Gerry DiNardo left Vanderbilt for LSU. Houston Nutt left Arkansas for Ole Miss. But in all those cases it was the coach who made the first move, not the school doing the hiring. With good reason.
If, for example, Tennessee chose to pursue Franklin and Vandy’s coach decided against the move, do you not think Franklin would quickly — oh, so quickly — let the whole world know that he’d turned down Tennessee to stay at Vanderbilt? Ditto Arkansas or Auburn if they failed to land Mullen?
Any school interested in a coach inside the league would need to be approached first by that coach’s reps or else it would risk aiding the coach’s current program while simultaneously hurting its own.
We’ll continue to monitor the situation — always wanted to write that — not only with regards to who might be coming into the SEC, but also with regards to who might be going.