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What Next, Tennessee?

Dave Hart and Tennessee’s biggest boosters need to walk into a Knoxville meeting room, drop the cones of silence from the ceiling, and relax.  While Vol fans scream, national writers and rival fans throw barbs, and mid-level donors set their hair on fire outside… Hart and UT’s leaders should remain calm.

The absolute worst move Tennessee could make right now would be to panic and rush a hire.  That’s what everyone says they need to do and it’s what we at believe they will do — based on the school’s past history — but it’s the last thing they should do.

As we’ve said before, searches are almost always viewed as total failures right up until a coach is hired.  Example: Bret Bielema to Arkansas.  Bielema had grown tired of simply being Barry Alvarez’s replacement.  Razorback AD Jeff Long properly gauged this and grabbed Wisconsin’s coach out of thin air.  Presto!  Long went from being a buffoon to a genius in Hog fans’ eyes in the span of about two minutes.

If Tennessee found that Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, for example, was tired of living in Tom Osborne’s shadow and could grab him, don’t you think UT’s search would be viewed in a bit different light?  Instead of hiring a man from Louisville with three years of experience, they’d be swiping a coach from one of the winningest programs in the country who happens to have more head coaching experience and an SEC pedigree from his days at LSU.  Oh, and as a head coach he’s never won fewer than nine games in a season.

Pelini makes $2.7 in Lincoln.  If Tennessee offered him $4 million, would NU match it?

Now, would Pelini really move?  Is he actually disgruntled at Nebraska?  Does he feel he’s taking too much heat for the 70 points his team just gave up in the Big Ten Championship Game?  Maybe, maybe not.  He remains a long, long shot for the Vols either way.

But the point is this: Hhe’s out there and so are a hundred other guys.  There is no reason to rush.  Regardless of the outward perception.  Perception changes — even after 10 “no thank yas” — if an AD walks up to the podium with the right guy at the end of the day.

Speaking to sources close to the UT search and inside the college athletics industry the past two days, we’ve been told that while the biggest boosters aren’t thrilled with Hart’s running of the search, there is no mutiny planned at the moment.  After all, the biggest boosters hired Hart and gave him the power to run his search.  To nuke him in any way would require admitting they had made a mistake in the first place.

The issue — as we’ve been told — is that Hart had Strong wrapped up yesterday and then left Louisville without him.  Anyone who’s ever been to a car dealership knows there’s a reason those sales folks don’t want to let you get off their lot.  By leaving town and trusting that Strong’s “yes” was firm, Hart let Strong get off the lot.  He let Cardinals AD Tom Jurich and Strong’s own heartstrings have the final say in matters.

The biggest of Tennessee’s boosters aren’t thrilled about that.  But any talk of mutiny is coming from the Vols’ big donors.  And there’s a difference between a school’s big donors and its biggest donors.

So where will the Vols turn now?


*  Larry Fedora of North Carolina was once angling for an interview and rising up UT’s list.  Then he cooled.  Sources have told us he didn’t want to upset his bosses at UNC by talking to a school if he was really just that’s school’s third option.  Did he get a raise from Carolina?  Was he simply unimpressed when meeting with Tennessee?  If indeed he met with Tennessee officials in New York this week (conflicting stories on that one, by the way).  Is he really out or could he be wooed back in with a phone call?

*  Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State is believed to be staying put in Stillwater, but as of this writing, he’s still not made any public announcement that he’s dropped anchor.  A long shot for the Vols, but technically not dead as of about 1pm ET.

*  Pelini of Nebraska has reportedly put feelers out toward Tennessee, but that could be because he wants a raise or because he wants Husker fans to back off about that 70-31 loss to Wisconsin.  Or, he could be looking at Wisconsin’s last coach and saying, “Man, I’d like to restart my coaching clock somewhere in the SEC, too.”  Either way, UT should call him.

*  Ex-coach Phillip Fulmer is now a hot topic after WNML-AM/FM in Knoxville reported yesterday that there’s a growing faction that wants him put back in place.  There’s a rift in the Vol fanbase as to whether or not he should return.  That rift is reason enough not to go down that road.  Instead, Duke’s David Cutcliffe could be seen as more of a unifier.  Fulmer’s best years came with Cutcliffe beside him.  And though the coach just inked a new pact with the Blue Devils, one source close to both Tennessee and Cutcliffe told us this morning that he’d be in play if the Vols called.

*  Butch Jones of Cincinnati is a Brian Kelly disciple who should have gotten more play on Tennessee’s list to begin with.  He doesn’t have the SEC background of Strong, but he does have a longer track record as a head coach at multiple schools.  And if you’re willing to throw money at Louisville’s coach, what’s the big deal with throwing cash at Cincinnati’s coach?  That path sure seems to have worked out well for Notre Dame.

*  Jon Gruden’s name continues to be kicked around as some sort of a done deal.  In the minds of some, all that’s played out to date has all gone according to Tennessee’s master plan.  Nevermind the fact that UT’s athletic department can’t seem to rub two sticks together properly in recent years, but now Hart and crew are supposed to be overseeing the greatest covert action since D-Day?  (If Hart is spotted near the Pas-de-Calais then we’ll start to buy into the subterfuge theory.)  In reality, one industry source told us this morning that if Tennessee were to give Gruden the guaranteed money he’s looking for it could bankrupt the program for years.  “If you think UT can’t afford a $5 million buyout, try buying out a coach for $20 or $25 million.”  So for now, we’ll continue to doubt the Grudenites.  We don’t believe Tennessee can afford — literally — to risk that kind of cash on a guy who hasn’t coached college ball in 20 years and who could return to the NFL at a moment’s notice.  We’ve been told that Hart and the school’s biggest boosters agree on that point.  (And, yes, we a have crow in the freezer should we need to eat one.)

*  Jack Del Rio’s name is one we’ve heard from a number of UT sources and the tie to Tennessee is obvious at this point.  Del Rio is the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos where Peyton Manning is quarterback.  Manning likes him.  The ex-Jacksonville Jaguars head coach has never coached in the college ranks before, but so long as he doesn’t make Grudenesque demands, he could turn out to be a way-off-the-radar candidate.


For Volunteer fans ready to leap from the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, take a deep breath and relax.  If Tennessee grabs a good coach at the end of the day, all the barbs and jokes you’re enduring now won’t mean a thing.  (I don’t hear anyone poking fun at Alabama because Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe pulled out of talks in 2006 these days).

However, if the powers in charge actually panic — worrying about bad headlines or a single recruiting class — then you can feel free to fret, too.  ‘Cause if UT panics, it’s likely the school will bungle yet another search.

This one hasn’t actually been bungled yet.  Until someone’s hired, the last chapter hasn’t been written.



I for one am grateful that we are where we are at....the Strong hire was a disaster avoided....I was sick yesterday morning when it was being reported that Strong was a done deal. Put Gundy down as a loose cannon....I feel like Fedora or Del Rio would be a good choice....time will tell, but I thank our lucky stars that Strong was avoided. He is where he needs to be and I wish him the best.


Pelini to Tennessee?


Bret Bielema approves of this!


Another thing I would watch out for is guys like Bo Pelini. I think the guy is a nut case anyway. But I think someone like him is trying to play UT for a raise. I can speak to that with Les Miles and us. Maybe the same thing for talking with Petersen. 


I know UT fans might not want to hear this, but I would hire Larry Fedora today. You might say, he's not a big named coach. So what. The guy was amazing at Southern Miss. The year after he left, they didn't win a game. He went into UNC on his first year, cleaning up the Butch Davis/NCAA mess and went 8-4. UT doesn't deserve to be down on the level of Kentucky. The coaching decision is to important to hire another Dooley(something I never got from the start). Tennessee fans, you guys should get behind Larry Fedora. 


a thing that i do not really see people taken in to consideration on the TN job.


If i were to ask you to write down your top 10 rankings for next year, after arguing that i know that it is WAY to soon to rank teams just jot them down



now  of that list of 10 would would Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Alabama or South Carolina on your list? 4 out of the 5? 3 out of the 5?


now go look at the Vols 2013 schedule


they will play all 5 of those teams with in there first 8 games, and FL, ALA and the Ducks are away games.


with the bar being set that you would only have 3 years to have the team back to being a huge power and it being vary reasonable that your first year that you will have 5 loses in your first 8 games, would you take the job?


would love to see the glory  restored a for the Vols to be a great team, but its all up hill and the hills are vary steep at Rocky Top.


to any coach taking the job.... rent your house and have the buyout be bigger then your signing bonus.






W           While I agree with advice to remain calm, please no more mention of Bo Pelini as some type of savior. He's no better coach than the one that just departed.


Hart has badly mismanaged this and will hopefully be forced to the role of puppet during the rest of the search.


There are viable coaches worth checking on but Pelini damn sure isn't one of them.


Not sure your issue with Strong, but folks said the same thing about James Franklin &Kevin Sumlin.  Even before the season started you implied more than once that Sumlin may not be the right coach for A&M even after his successful run at Houston.  You implied (more than once) that Sumlin was in the hot seat even before he coached a game.  Now Charlie Strong'S success at Louisville, his experience at Florida does no tmake him SEC-headcoach material(see Petrino's record, Louisville, SEC assistant-1 year in pros).  Now  other than the mistress and bike ride please explain why Petrino was a "GET" while Strong is a "REACH" .  Then John please look at the other head coaches in the SEC and their experience before their current positions and tell me how Strong's background differs?  Other than Saban I do not see any difference.     C'mon John help me with your (il)logic.


I seriously created a account just to post some props for the reporting done during the AU ARK and TN Coaching Searches. Been a reader for a couple years now - keep up the great work, guys.   :)


Very thoughtful article.  For the Vols' sake, I hope they take your advice.


But I don't think Jeff Long ever was a buffoon in the eyes of the Arkansaw faithful.  Not many really were ready to blame Long if he ended up hiring Sonny Dykes.  But he had put himself in a tough position with his vow to hire a sitting head coach with BCS experience.  That narrows the list considerably.  And Arkansaw has an inferiority complex (from a conference history of being Texas' little brother for 6 decades) that makes us all expect that we will be choosing from assistant coaches and mid-level universities.  


In our hearts we all know Long did the right thing in firing Petrino.  Now with the hiring of Bielema, I really do wonder if Jeff Long is the smartest guy in the room.


Surely you did not mention Butch Jones!!! I refuse to stand behind any coach who cannot out coach Derek Dooley head up!! Terrible!!!!!!


There are so many amazing coaches out there...and we are just looking at little minnows. I do Like the Del Rio hire have been preaching Defense for years and we just hire stupid offense minded idiots. I wouldn't mind us going after Cowher, I was a huge Dave Doeren fan when he was at Wisconsin and wanted UT to hire him as DC 3 years ago. Matt Campbell, Kyle Flood, Lembo, DeRuyter are all going to be awesome. If we want that OMG i can't believe we hired him away it would be Sumlin from A&M heck that's all he wants is money  at the very least make A&M pay him more he deserves it. I think Vic Fangio would be a great hire even Koetter from Atlanta would at least get us 10 wins. Honestly, i just don't understand why they can't pick a winner. 8 years i've been picking winners... i have a board at my house and i have been able to pick the top 10 coaches each year...if i can do it why the hell can't they figure it out!!! Here is another name out there Everett Withers...Oh and Larry Fedora...great coach...but he is the biggest ass...he is Petrino 2.0!!! scum of the a Southern Miss grad i don't hate him for leaving us when he knew he couldn't win the next year...but all the lies he told his players then all the bad mouthing. Bret Farve had your back man good luck animal!! At this point i agree...wait 3 weeks till the bowls and you'll probably get a good feeling who else is out there if they win and want more money. no point choosing another loser.  Of course if we had balls we would have called up Jim Leavitt and been in contention next year, but it takes a genius to find a genius and Hart and our DEPT can't even figure it out with the fastest computer on the planet.


I am not in a panic. This might turn out to be a good thing in the long run. The time pressure is now off for UT and Hart. You won't be rushing to beat the hogs, tigers or other X school to make the headline. It allows everyone to cool their heels and possibly do some better work to get the right guy, and not the one looking to jump for the biggest increase in pay.


 @Fayettechill14 that's just wrong. Bo Pelini is a nut. I would stay away from him. I think Butch Jones or Larry Fedora is who UT should go after. I would be shocked to see both of them turn Tennessee down. And no..........that's not a twitter joke from last night. 


 @Statesman Good points all Statesman.


Sumlin, Strong, Franklin have all proven to be better coaches and would have been far better coaches for UT had we chose to get involved with any of the trio than so called "proven coaches'that John seems to favor in this case.



Bo Pelini, Butch Jones give me a break.







 Sure why rush into things....this time of the year unemployed Dooley's are everywhere...take your pick....


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