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Vols To Hire Strong Today? Gundy Not Out Of The Picture Yet

With one coaching search still rolling along, we’ll start right there this morning.

Tennessee is continuing its search for a new coach today and many Volunteer fans — at least judging by their emails to us — aren’t happy to be the last school with a vacancy.  They shouldn’t be upset at all.  Not yet anyway.

Auburn hired Gus Malzahn yesterday, a coach that makes sense for the Tigers as he knows most of that school’s players as well as the full landscape of the program.  But he was not on Tennessee’ list.

Arkansas made a splashy hire by convincing Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema to move south and enter a league that he famously dissed a year ago.  Coaches from successful programs don’t often move, so that surprise hire was a coup for the Hogs.  But Beilema was not on Tennessee’s list.

On Monday we told you Volunteer AD Dave Hart’s list looked like this: Jimbo Fisher, Mike Gundy, Charlie Strong, and Larry Fedora.  Three of those coaches are still on the table.  There’s no need for Hart to panic or rush — something that UT did three years ago in finding and signing Derek Dooley in a week’s time.  As we’ve stated before, schools should take their time and not rush.  Nick Saban didn’t meet with Alabama officials until January 1st, 2007 before taking that job.  Schools need to get the right guy, not the first guy.

Auburn and Arkansas believe they found the right guys for their jobs.  Tennessee needs to make sure it does the same.

Fisher pulled his name out of the mix at Auburn and Tennessee.  Expect Florida State to announce an extension and raise for the ACC champion coach soon.

Gundy and Strong have both met with Vol officials.  Speaking to two sources in New York last night, we were told Fedora did not meet with UT officials as planned yesterday.  (Tennessee had a large traveling party at last night’s College Football Hall of Fame induction banquet at which former Vol coach Phillip Fulmer was honored.)  One source told us that Fedora didn’t want to upset his current bosses in Chapel Hill just to be the #3 guy on a three-man list.  However, if something goes belly-up with UT’s two remaining candidates, it’s believed Fedora could be coaxed back into the picture.

That leaves Strong as the odds-on favorite.  He has already called several assistants about the possibility of joining him in Knoxville.  Two sources have told us that current Southern Cal aide and former BCS title-winning quarterback Tee Martin would return to the Vols as part of Strong’s staff.

Multiple reports came out late yesterday stating that Strong is UT’s guy.  Then Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reported that Louisville officials were confident they could keep their Big East champion coach.

Meanwhile, we were told by multiple Tennessee and industry sources that Gundy is still very much on Tennessee’s radar.  In fact, one source said, “Don’t call this thing for Strong until Gundy announces he’s out.”

Gundy spoke with Arkansas officials earlier this week.  While the Oklahoma State coach is out of sorts with his bosses in Stillwater at the moment — at least according to reports — we doubt he’ll leave a job at his alma mater that pays him well over $3 million per season (on average).  Clearly, Arkansas would have been a better fit for Gundy and his Oklahoma/Texas recruiting base than Tennessee would be (even though such recruiting issues didn’t prevent Bielema from accepting Arkansas’ offer).

Asked if there was a risk of Strong losing patience with Tennessee and staying put, an industry source said, “Comparing the ACC to the SEC is like comparing Triple-A to the Major Leagues.  If given the chance, he won’t say no (to Tennessee).”  Louisville, of course, will soon be moving from the Big East to the ACC.  Strong has spent the majority of his career in the SEC.  He also knows that he can make more money long-term, get better facilities and better fan support, and have a better shot at national championships in the SEC.

For now, Strong is the man everyone — including — expects to be named the Vols’ next coach.  Even Louisville AD Tom Jurich said last night: “The ultimate decision will come down to does he want to be in Louisville or not?  Economically, fiscally, we can match anything anybody wants to do.”

But unless things have changed since about 11pm ET last night, Gundy isn’t out of the picture yet.  He can still land the job if he wants it.  And if he doesn’t, Strong will still likely accept it.  Even if UT doesn’t extend a formal offer for another 24 hours.

There should be no rush in Knoxville.  At least two of the Vols’ final four candidates are still available and a third would likely agree to re-enter the race if given assurances he’d be the Vols’ man.  Also, there’s no competition remaining from inside the SEC.  The pressure’s off in some respects.

Stay tuned.  When Gundy makes his call, an announcement from Tennessee will come soon after.



Of Strong or Gundy, I think Strong would be the better choice for UT considering his defensive background and his name being more recognizable in the Florida area. Gundy offers more from the offensive side but in the SEC, defense wins championships. I just hope we don't fool around waiting on Gundy to make a decision and have him leave us standing at the altar while Strong gets PO'd by appearing to be the fall-back choice. I remember us losing Kevin Stallings as basketball coach in this fashion when we decided we might have a chance at Tim Floyd. Stallings has had a successful carreer at Vandy while Floyd got USC on probation and we had to endure the Jerry Green and Buzz Peterson eras before we finally hired a decent coach. I believe Gundy is just using this as a way to fortify his status at OSU and make a few dollars in the process.


In following coaching searches, I like to go to the local newspapers of a school where a potential hire is located. This AM in the Courier Journal, despite all the noise about Strong possibly leaving, I had to search just to find anything about Louisville football. I guess there could be an advantage of coaching anonymously in a school with an overriding basketball culture, but I can't imagine he gets all the resources that he needs there (aside from income), and he probably just has to work like hell just to generate a buzz in the community around his program. I am for the Strong hire. I have concerns about a coach like Gundy who seems anxious to leave his alma mater. I realize there is some friction with the AD, but geez, it sounds like a good situation there.

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