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.
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 MrSEC.com 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 MrSEC.com 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.