Let us begin with this, “Thank you Coach Fulmer, for everything.” That being said (and please understand there is depth in such a comment), let’s begin the talk that will swirl around the University of Tennessee over the next few months. What looks to be a promising basketball season will once again take a backseat to football talk at least until SEC play. The talk of course will be on the new football coach in east Tennessee.
We would not be doing our jobs if we did not bring you a list of possible candidates that will be considered for the position. There is an emphasis on possible in the previous sentence, so that eliminates Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Nick Saban and Mark Richt. The previous statement was necessary because a few years ago when Tennessee was looking for a new men’s basketball coach a few names that popped up on message boards were Paul Hewitt, Jim Calhoun and “that guy at the school in New York that wears orange.” Yes, those were the people Tennessee fans really thought they had a chance at getting. So for those people: consider the aforementioned coaches off limits unless a miracle occurs.
This will not be an easy process or hire for Athletic Director Hamilton. Unlike Florida, Georgia, Alabama, or LSU there is no base recruiting bed for Tennessee. Fulmer made a living plucking kids from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, California and other places. In recent years those recruiting pipelines have shut off by Richt, Meyer, Saban, and Carroll. The new coach will have to immediately stake claim to players in those areas, a coach that already has a recruiting base in one of those regions would be ideal in terms of recruiting. With this in mind, it eliminates all the up and coming coaches without a history or recruiting players in the South.
The sense for change has been swirling around Tennessee football over the last few years. Not only a coaching change but a system change. Take a peek at the top teams in the BCS rankings, what do most of them have in common? In their offensive system the words ‘spread’ and ‘spread-option’ seem to show up often. Only Alabama and USC in the top 10 run conventional, pro-style offenses. College football has moved into the era of spreading defenses out and no one is better at that then the young, up-and-coming coaches.
With all that being said, lets take a look at the wish list…
The Ultimate Christmas Gift
Mike Leach – The hottest coach in the country ending up in Tennessee is about as likely as Kiera Knightley dating me. But like I’ve always said, if I could just get a date with her she would find me funny and irresitible. So if Leach would just take the phone call, who knows. He could at least use it as leverage for a new contract at Texas Tech. Leach has no real ties to Tennessee and only a stint as OC at Kentucky under Mumme that connect him to the SEC. He has been in the Big 12 since 1998, established a nice recruiting foot hold in that part of the country and looks sure of getting whatever he wants contractually from Tech so chances are slim. Either way it is worth a phone call from Hamilton. Side Note: Kiera will you go out with me? Ever done late happy hour at Applebee’s?
Butch Davis – The current North Carolina Head Coach is credited with his ability to rebuild a college program. North Carolina is already on the rise in only his second year and everyone remembers what he did at Miami (right before Larry Coker). Davis is an excellent recruiter with strong ties in the south, especially Florida. The only foreseeable downside is his age, but Davis is too competitive not to go out on top. If he does come to Tennessee or stays at North Carolina, one must believe he will not leave or retire until things are right. Unlike Leach, Tennessee is an option for Davis. A much higher profile school where football does not play second fiddle to hoops, a huge fan base and great facilities. Get out your wallet Mr. Hamilton, call up the trusted boosters, word on the street is that Davis is already interested.
The Christmas Gift Santa Can Afford
Jim Grobe – Also known as a program builder, Grobe has brought the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest into the ACC spotlight. An excellent football coach, he is one of the brightest football minds in the country. He gets more out of less talent than anyone in the country. The downfall is his recruiting. Grobe is famous for redshirting all his freshmen, unfortunately 5 star recruits do not want to be redshirted and believe SEC coaches would use that as ammo on the recruiting battlefield. Grobe is a character guy who teaches more than football but the lack of country wide recruiting will hurt his chances if he is interested.
Chris Peterson – In 3 years at Boise State Peterson has made a name for himself replacing Dan Hawkins. The offensive guru is among the message board favorites around east Tennessee. He would interject new life into a stagnat Tennessee program and his offenses would no doubt be fun to watch but Peterson has never recruited east of the Mississippi as a coordinator or head coach. While that does not say that he can’t do it, it is a red mark on his resume. There are no blemishes when it comes to actual coaching on his resume. Nobody doubts his knack for play calling and his guts to go for the win. Even with the lack of southern recruiting experience, Peterson looks to be a big name on a short list.
Lane Kiffin – The former Raider’s head coach has been discussed in many circles regarding many head coaching jobs in college football. The former offensive coordinator at USC was widely respected not only for his offensive play calling but his ability to recruit top notch athletes. Kiffin moved straight from OC at USC to head coach of the Oakland Raiders a position any man would have trouble succeeding in. Kiffin has proven he can recruit, at least out west, and knows the game. While his offensive philosophy is not a spread type of offense, he has proven he can win with it. He could just as easily end up somewhere in the NFL as an OC as he could a college head coach. If he decides to get back into the college football world, Tennessee would be a great fit for Kiffin but Tennessee won’t get him without a fight from California or Arizona (two schools most likely to can their current head coaches). Tennessee is currently looking for a coach and Kiffin is currently without a coaching job, and this fact could help both parties remedy those problems quickly.
Will Muschamp – The defensive coordinator at Texas is ready to be a head coach and he will be the head coach somewhere next year. He has coached some incredible defenses in his time at Auburn, LSU and Texas. Of course he has recruiting ties all over the south and Texas which make him capable of recruiting players to Tennessee. The obvious hold-up is his lack of coaching experience. It would be considered a gamble to bring Muschamp in to Tennessee, but sometimes gambles pay off big time. If he does end up at Tennessee hiring a very good and respected offensive coordinator will be huge for the success of the program.
Stocking Stuffers (Guys who would be on the first flight to Knoxville)
Brian Kelly – The current Cincinnati coach made a splash when he started winning games at Central Michigan. He is known, like most coaches in this article, for putting points on the board. There are obvious questions regarding recruiting, defense and his ability to run a major program but at least he won’t say no.
Skip Holtz – He has done a good job at East Carolina and would be even higher on the list if they could have maintained their early success throughout the season. The only upside to his hiring would be seeing Lou Holtz pull for the Big Orange. He may one day be a good coach and a major university it just won’t be at Tennessee next year.
Trooper Taylor – The former running backs and wide receivers coach at Tennessee took his first offensive coordinator job at Oklahoma State this year. The co-offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State has lined himself up nicely to land a head coaching job in the next few years. If Fulmer could have made it a few more years, Taylor may have been the guy. Right now, as an old girlfriend of mine once said, it’s just bad timing.
Let the water cooler talks begin in Tennessee and across the country. This hire sets the landscape for Tennessee football for the next ten to fifteen years. Good luck Mr. Hamilton, my only advice, “Load up the private plane with all the money you cand find and fly to Chapel Hill.” If that doesn’t work out Rocky Top will be rolling the dice.