Derek Dooley: 10 Candidates to Replace Tennessee Volunteers Head Coach
The Tennessee Volunteers broke the hearts of fans across the state with their 37-20 loss at the hands of hated rival Florida last week. That makes eight straight years of winless football against the Gators, and it has Dooley nearing the hot seat once again.
So to whom do the Vols go if Dooley gets the ax?
Before you dislocate your index finger violently scrolling down the screen so you can light me up with a comment about how I'm overreacting about Dooley getting fired, I want to make it clear that I don't think he should be fired...yet.
The Vols still have winnable games against Georgia (maybe), Mississippi State, South Carolina (maybe) and Missouri. Even going 2-2 through those four games would set Tennessee up for an 8-4 season, which could turn into a respectable nine-win year with a bowl victory.
But if we learned anything from Lane Kiffin, it should be that you always need to have a Plan B. So if Dooley's Vols fall flat in another big game, we ought to know what kind of coaches are out there.
Here are the 10 coaches I'd go to after Dooley if I were athletic director Dave Hart. It's a mix of long shots, strong possibilities and safety picks.
The Long Shots
The next four coaches have a combined record of 387-102. They have 21 bowl wins, 17 conference titles and one national title among them.
Each of them has been a head coach at just one school his whole career. They would be extremely hard for Tennessee to attract, but they're the best.
That's why they're the long shots.
No. 1: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Many friends of mine have heard me bring up Bob Stoops as "the guy" to go for if Derek Dooley gets fired. Why? Because Stoops is the biggest fish that still has a slight chance of being caught.
Special circumstances usually cause great coaches to move schools. Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino (is he great?) all failed in the NFL before returning to new colleges. Urban Meyer retired twice from Florida and commentated for ESPN before heading for Ohio State.
Stoops doesn't have an odd circumstance, but I don't care! He's the best college football coach who isn't cemented into the sidelines of his current school. He's also just 52 years old and has SEC experience as a defensive coordinator under Spurrier at Florida.
Start with Stoops. Tennessee fans won't begrudge you for trying to get the best, even if you are unsuccessful.
No. 2: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
If Tennessee can't lure Bob Stoops, heading north on I-35 to Stillwater wouldn't be a bad idea.
Mike Gundy garnered national attention with his "I'm a man, I'm 40!" tirade against the media in 2007. But what has gone relatively unnoticed is the fact that he has built one of the strongest, most stable programs in the country since being named head coach in 2005.
After Les Miles left a mediocre Oklahoma State team for LSU, Gundy built the Cowboys from a 4-7 season in 2005 to four straight seasons of nine wins or more. His teams have competed on the national stage since 2008.
Gundy also knows a thing or two about coaching superstar wide receivers like the ones Tennessee has. First-rounders Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon were recruited and developed by him.
The only thing keeping me from recommending Tennessee throw the house at Gundy in the event of Derek Dooley's firing is that Gundy is a lifelong Oklahoma State man. He played there and has coached there for 17 of his 22 years.
But you never know what an aggressive campaign and the shine of the SEC logo could do.
No. 3: Chris Petersen, Boise State
In six full seasons at Boise State, Chris Petersen is 74-7. I don't care who you play or what the color of your field is, that's damn impressive.
Regardless, the Broncos have progressively started playing elite competition at the beginning of the season to boost their BCS bowl resumes and have been victorious in many of such contests.
In fact, had their kicker not missed a 26-yard field goal against Nevada, Petersen would've likely led Boise State to the BCS National Championship Game in 2010.
If you can recruit 3-star players to Boise, Idaho, and coach them to beat Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia Tech, then you can recruit 4- and 5-stars to Knoxville, Tenn., and contend in the SEC.
No. 4: Gary Patterson, TCU
Yet another hot name for open coaching positions every year is TCU's Gary Patterson. His resume at a once little-respected school is similar to Chris Petersen's.
Patterson has been at TCU since 1998, a head coach since 2000. He has compiled a record of 111-30, with eight seasons of 11 or more wins.
He seems comfortable in Fort Worth, but he's a no-brainer in terms of gauging interest. No great coach immediately starts his career at a huge school.
The Strong Possibilities
The next four coaches have an average age of 44. They have only six full years of head-coaching tenure (three more are going on now) but have excelled in short periods of time.
Three of the four were highly regarded coordinators before being hired away for head-coaching positions. Often these kinds of coaches are even better at their second head-coaching jobs.
The annual salaries of these coaches are $2.3 million; $1.95 million; $850,000; and $750,000. Derek Dooley currently makes $1.8 million.
They are highly affordable and realistic options.
No. 5: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Yet another coach with SEC ties is Clemson's Dabo Swinney. It took time for Swinney to get a foothold with the Tigers, but since taking over in 2008, he has led Clemson to a nine-win season and a 10-win season and is off to a strong 3-0 start this year.
His teams have become some of the most exciting in all of college football to watch, with athletes all over the field and tremendous big-play ability. Swinney can recruit and is a young, energetic coach on the rise.
He played and began coaching at Alabama. You might say that job is locked down for the time being, so Tennessee wouldn't have to worry about a second Lane Kiffin.
No. 6: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Charlie Strong was one of the top defensive coordinators in the country from 2002 to 2009, when he coached at Florida. He served as the interim head coach during Urban Meyer's absences and eventually was hired away to Louisville in 2010.
After inheriting a Cardinals team that went 15-21 in the three years prior to his arrival, Strong has taken Louisville to two straight bowl games, winning one.
As of September 18, he has them ranked in the nearly every Top 25 poll with a 3-0 start.
Strong has spent the majority of his coaching career in the SEC, with stints at Florida, Texas A&M (not in the SEC at the time), Ole Miss and South Carolina. At 52 years old, Strong is at the perfect coaching age to take over a program and ride with it for a long time.
No. 7: Kirby Smart, Alabama Defensive Coordinator
This coach would be a shaky hire coming off the three-year tenure of Derek Dooley. Kirby Smart has no head coaching experience, has benefited greatly from Nick Saban's unbelievable recruiting and is only 36 years old.
But he's going to get a big gig one day. He's going to get that chance to make a name for himself. Tennessee could be the one to jump the gun.
Smart has been Alabama's defensive coordinator since 2007 when he was just 32, so he is a bit of a wunderkind already.
The only negative thing about him is his resume, eerily similar to Dooley's.
They both coached Georgia in their youthful days, served on the same staff at LSU with Saban and later joined him with the Miami Dolphins. The only difference is that Dooley went and got his head-coaching feet wet at Louisiana Tech, while Smart stuck with Saban.
If Dooley gets fired, is the best idea to hire his younger self? Still, it's tough to overlook a defensive guru like Smart.
No. 8: Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State
If Tyler Bray comes back for his senior year in 2013 and either one (or both!) of his two dynamite receivers does the same, Gus Malzahn could help Bray turn in one of the most prolific quarterbacking seasons in conference history.
Malzahn is a well-known offensive mastermind with coaching stops at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn.
Everywhere he went, the offense struck gold.
He has taken his first coaching job at Arkansas State this year, most likely prepping for a jump to a big conference in the future. I honestly don't love the idea of über-offense being the goal of the Volunteers (Alabama and LSU don't do it), but if the current squad can score so well, imagine mixing in Malzahn.
The Safety Picks
You're probably going to laugh at the two coaches left on this list. But who would've thought that a desperate Tennessee program would've had to go with a WAC coach who had a career record of 17-20?
That was an unintentional swipe at Dooley...
I have one guy who will pull at Volunteers' heart strings and another that may leave you scratching your head. Just remember that these are truly safety picks.
I've seen crazier things happen if every other coach says no.
No. 9: Tee Martin, USC Wide Receivers
Tee Martin is a legend on Rocky Top but has yet to make it back to Neyland as a coach. He's just 34 years old but has done admirably in coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers at New Mexico, Kentucky and now USC.
Is it too early for Martin? Yes, probably.
But he's by far the best candidate that's also a Tennessee grad (if that's important to you). Martin is absolutely going to get a chance to be a head coach one day.
No. 10: Rick Stockstill, MTSU
I'm going with an absolutely crazy pick for my last coach. Rick Stockstill of MTSU was one of the hottest names in coaching in 2009, when his Blue Raiders went 10-3.
That year, MTSU became the first Sun Belt Conference team ever to win 10 games, and the bowl was the first in school history at the FBS level.
The love died down after 2009 due to a couple highly disappointing years that resulted in a combined record of 8-17.
Stockstill was a quarterback and team captain under Bobby Bowden at Florida State before coaching various offensive positions with Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. Clearly, he has a nice coaching pedigree, but this would be a shocker.
That's why they call it a safety pick.
(I also might be throwing Stockstill a bone since his son is currently leading my alma mater to a high-school state championship. Siegel Nation!)