A year from now, this will all be forgotten. Heck, the football world might forget about Tennessee’s search for a new head football coach by the spring. One thing is certain, though. The Tennessee football program will continue. No matter how much the mainstream media continues to criticize the Volunteers, Tennessee football will prevail.
The Ouster of Butch Jones
Yes, Jones went 9-4 in consecutive seasons but was still on the proverbial “coaches hot seat.” Tennessee fans clamored for more, but Jones couldn’t deliver in 2017. One team failed to win a game in the SEC this season – Tennessee. That is simply unacceptable and, after five years of wallowing in relative mediocrity it was time for Jones to go. After a brutal 50-17 loss to that juggernaut known as Missouri – that’s the same Missouri that started the season 1-5 – Jones was let go.
The Search, Part I
The Tennessee football program deserves a quality football coach. Athletic director John Currie set out to find him. Several names were linked to the job, including current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden who served as an assistant at the school several years ago. With a number of other coaching jobs available, there seemed to be a healthy talent pool available.
Exactly one week ago, the search appeared to be over. Tennessee reached a deal with current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to become the new head coach. As news of the impending hire reached the UT fan base, uproar began. Fans began to protest on campus and even Tennessee state legislators chimed in expressing their discontent with the hire of Schiano. Yes, Schiano served as an assistant under Joe Paterno at Penn State and yes, anyone can make all sorts of claims regarding Schiano and the whole Jerry Sandusky debacle. The bottom line is this. The Penn State child abuse scandal is not the reason why Tennessee decided not to hire Greg Schiano.
Schiano was not hired at Tennessee because he simply isn’t good enough. Vols fans do not want another Jones. Schiano coached at Rutgers for 11 seasons. His overall record? 68-67. He spent two years in the NFL as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The record there? 11-21. Yes, Schiano did have some success at Rutgers, but 8-5 and 9-4 are okay at a university not steeped in tradition. A 9-4 record and a berth in the Pinstripe Bowl aren’t going to cut it in Knoxville. That is why Schiano was not hired at Tennessee.
The Search, Part II
As Currie continued to the task of finding the next leader of the Vols football program, he ran into some roadblocks. David Cutcliffe, who served as offensive coordinator under Philip Fulmer at UT, decided he would like to finish his coaching career at Duke where he has enjoyed some success. Currie talked to Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy about the job. After some consideration, Gundy likely used Tennessee’s courting to negotiate a pay raise at Oklahoma State. North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren did the same. After being turned down by a handful of potential candidates, Tennessee decided it was time for Currie to step aside as athletic director. Enter the one guy who truly knows Tennessee football – Philip Fulmer. The university hired the Hall of Fame coach and winner of 152 games in Knoxville as the new athletic director. Fulmer is now in charge of finding the Vols next head coach.
If you think the pool of potential candidates has fizzled in relation to the Tennessee job, think again. All Tennessee fans want is someone who is going to make the Vols relevant again. Someone with the vision to build a legitimate contender for the SEC East Division and conference title year-in and year-out on. A candidate with a little orange and white in his blood wouldn’t hurt either.
What about Tee Martin? Tennessee fans remember Martin very well. He guided the Vols to a national championship in 1998. He just finished his second season as offensive coordinator of the Pac-12 champion USC Trojans. Martin is only 39 years old and has never been a head coach, but every big time coach had to start somewhere. Fulmer could help Martin assemble a strong staff to help the cause.
Kevin Steele, the Auburn defensive coordinator, is another name that continues to be mentioned. Steele, 59, played linebacker at Tennessee. Steele has spent almost two decades as a high-profile assistant with some of the biggest programs in the nation – Auburn, LSU, Clemson, and Alabama. The knock against him is that he was brutally awful in his one stint as a head coach. He went 9-36 in four years at Baylor back in the early 2000s.
It was reported that before his departure from the AD position that Currie did make contact with Washington State’s Mike Leach. He could still be in play, but one of Fulmer’s first contacts was made to former LSU coach Les Miles. There may not be a more experienced coach with such a successful track record available as Miles. The Mad Hatter, as he is known in the coaching ranks, spent 11-plus seasons in Baton Rouge accumulating a 114-34 record, three SEC West titles, two conference championships, and a national title in 2007.
Hiring the next football coach at the University of Tennessee is a huge decision. Tennessee football is at a crossroads and the program needs the right person. So what if the Vols balked on Schiano. So what if other coaches said ‘no’ to the job. Is the mainstream media all over Florida State for the fiasco that saw Jimbo Fisher leave to go to Texas A&M?
Has the media even cared to bring up Arizona State and its firing of Todd Graham? The Sun Devils fired Graham after ASU went 7-5 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12, and beat their in-state rival Arizona. Vice president for athletics – ASU’s fancy title for athletic director – Ray Anderson said in relation to Graham’s firing that the school was just tired of being average. So, what did they do? Arizona State went out and hired a new head coach who has never been one at the college level and who went 54-74 in that capacity in the NFL (Herm Edwards).
When the time is right and when the person is right, Tennessee will have its next head football coach. When that happens, the Vols will hopefully be moving forward while the media forgets what has become the Great Tennessee Coaching Search.