Sadly, it looks as though it maybe the Night of the Long Knives for Coach Derek Dooley at Tennessee. In the three years at Tennessee, Dooley is 14-18 and a horrible 4-16 record in the SEC. Also, the Vols have yet to defeat a ranked opponent.
In Dooley's defense, he took over a program fraught with issues. Poor recruiting. Lane Kiffin bolting after one season for USC. Scholarship players leaving left and right. NCAA probing into recruiting violations by Kiffin's staff. In other words, Dooley has his work cut out for him.
However, the natives are restless in Knoxville and Volunteer Nation. Being a bottom-tier SEC program for the last couple of years has weighted mightily on the hearts of the Vol fanbase.
So patience is wearing thin and some of the big-money boosters may demand Tennessee's new Athletic director, Dave Hart, to make a change at the end of the year. And unfortunately for Dooley, he is not Hart's man. Dooley was hired by Mike Hamilton, the previous AD. All new athletic directors are always eager to put their people in place. After all, they don't want take the heat for somebody else's hire.
Personally, I think Dooley deserve one more year, but if that doesn't happen, here are some candidates that Tennessee fans have floated up to be considered as the new football coach at Rocky Top. I evaluate them all as to whether or not Tennessee should hire or not hire them.
According to The Register Guard, Mike Bellotti is unsure about getting back into coaching, though he's not completely against it. Bellotti retired as head coach of Oregon Ducks in 2008 to take the athletic director's job for University of Oregon. In 2010, Bellotti resigned as AD to take up TV work with ESPN.
Last year when the Arizona and Washington State jobs opened up, Bellotti's name came up multiple times; however, Bellotti was to dispel any of the rumors and deny interest in either program. Personally, I think it is because Bellotti doesn't want a Pac-12 job. He is a beloved figure in Eugene, Oregon and doesn't want to create bad blood with Duck fans by taking a Pac-12 head coaching position.
Why is Bellotti beloved in Oregon?
He put the Ducks on the map. In the 14 years at Oregon, Bellotti was 116-55 and 72-43 in the Pac-12. Bellotti took Oregon to 12 bowl games. Just as a comparison, before Bellotti came to Oregon in 1995, the Ducks had not even been to 12 bowl games in their history.
Bellotti is an excellent evaluator of coordinators. In 2008, Bellotti hired an unknown offensive coordinator from the University of New Hampshire to run his Oregon offense. That coordinator being Chip Kelly, and as the old saying goes, the rest is history.
The state of Tennessee doesn't produce enough in-state talent to sustain an SEC-caliber program. So the Volunteers have to recruit nationally. Hiring Bellotti would help Tennessee recruit on the west coast. Keep in mind that the No. 2 and No. 3 QB's in passing yards in Tennessee history came from the West Coast, Erik Ainge from Portland, Oregon and Casey Clausen from Thousand Oaks, California. A Bellotti hire would help keep that west coast talent coming.
Many Vol fans may object to Bellotti because he is 61 years old. However, Steve Spurrier is 67 and Nick Saban turned 61 this year. I highly doubt Gamecock and Tide fans consider their coaches "over the hill."
Another objection to some may be Bellotti is not a southern boy and "can't" recruit in the South. Those that consider this a real objection should ponder that Nick Saban came to LSU from Michigan State. Urban Meyer came to Florida from Utah, and before that, Bowling Green. Les Miles came to LSU from Oklahoma State and is a former Michigan offensive lineman.
You will be hard-pressed to find another coach, outside the SEC, that has a better SEC resume. Coach Strong has truly paid his dues. Now, Strong has recently said publicly he doesn't plan to "walk away" from Louisville. However, that could very well mean he doesn't plan to bolt from Louisville just for some more money. I think he would consider leaving for the right job.
Here is Strong's SEC resume
1988-1989: Outside Linebacker coach, Florida
1990: Wide Receiver coach, Ole Miss
1991-1994: Defensive Tackle/Assistant coach, Florida
1999-2001: Defensive Coordinator, South Carolina
2002-2009: Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Strong was the only assistant coach from Ron Zook's Florida staff that Urban Meyer kept.
Currently, Strong is in his third year as head coach at Louisville. The Cards are currently 7-0 and on track for their best season since Bobby Petrino's 2006 Louisville team that went to the Orange Bowl.
Strong knows what to expect in the SEC in terms of lack of tolerance for failure, recruiting top players and emphasis on defense.
Tennessee would be foolish to ignore Charlie Strong. Tennessee's loss would certainly be somebody's gain, probably Arkansas.
Chris Petersen could very well be the "WOW" hire Tennessee fans desire, much like when Florida hired Urban Meyer away from Utah.
Prior to coming to Boise State, Petersen served as Wide Receivers coach at Oregon from 1995-2001 under head coach Mike Bellotti.
Petersen then left to serve as offensive coordinator for Boise State from 2001-2005 under Dan Hawkins. During his tenure, he was nominated twice for the Broyles Award for the best assistant coach. When Hawkins bolted for his ill-conceived choice of Colorado, Peterson was promoted to head coach.
So far since 2005, Petersen's Broncos have amassed a 78-7 win-loss record and have had two undefeated seasons, 2006 and 2009. Both times they have played in BCS bowl games, they have won. Boise has been everybody's favorite non-AQ David to slay the BCS Goliath's. The Broncos have beaten Oklahoma, Georgia, Oregon, Virginia Tech and Oregon State.
The city of Boise and the state of Idaho are not exactly the greatest recruiting sales in the world and yet Petersen still manages to bring in talent. Currently, there are 18 players in the NFL that played for Boise, many of them from during the Petersen era, including QB Kellen Moore.
The downside is, Boise State is slated to go into the Big East next year. Petersen may very well want to stay at Boise not only for personal reasons, but to prove his Broncos can be successful in a BCS conference.
If he will leave Boise, hire him.
For some reason, the name Jon Gruden is considered the man on the white horse for Volunteer fans. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to bringing Gruden to Rocky Top.
Gruden was a graduate assistant for two years at University of Tennessee when Johnny Majors was head coach. His lovely wife Cindy is a graduate of the University and a former Vols cheerleader.
After leaving Tennessee, Gruden went on to short college stints at Southwest Missouri State and the University of Pacific before landing a coaching job in the NFL. After working for some time as an assistant coach for the 49ers, the Packers and offensive coordinator for the Eagles, Gruden became a head coach in 1998 for Oakland Raiders. From 2002-2008, Gruden would serve as head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gruden won a Super Bowl in 2002 and finished his NFL coaching career 95-81.
Gruden would no doubt be considered a big-time hire for the Vols; however, there are some things that make Gruden not really that great of a candidate.
1. He makes a lot of money working as an analyst on TV and doesn't have to deal with the headaches and stress of coaching. Why leave?
2. It has been a long time since Gruden has been on a college sideline. He has never had to walk into a recruit's house, sit at the kitchen table and try and sell himself and a college program. Could he out-sell Nick Saban, Les Miles and Will Muschamp? Who knows? He hasn't ever had to do it. There is a big difference between college coaching and the NFL, as Bill Callahan, Dave Wannstedt , Sylvester Croom and Mike Sherman found out the hard way.
3. Gruden turned down Tennessee before it hired Derek Dooley, so why would Gruden say yes this time around?
Should not be Tennessee's first choice or second.
Hudspeth is going to be coaching in the SEC; the only question is when. When it was rumored last year, that Penn State was interested in Dan Mullen from Mississippi State, Hudspeth made it be known publicly he was interested in the Miss State job if there was a vacancy.
After being offensive coordinator for Delta State and then Navy, Hudspeth took the head coaching job at North Alabama, a Division II program. As head coach, Hudspeth was 66-21 in the seven years in Florence and took the North Alabama Lions to the D-II playoffs every year but two.
In 2008-2009, he served as wide receivers coach for Mississippi State. In 2011, he was hired away to be the next head coach at UL- Lafayette.
In his first year with the Ragin Cajuns, Hudspeth went undefeated at home, only the fourth time in school history. The program saw the greatest percentage increase in tickets sold to home games in D-I football last year. Likewise, Hudspeth finished 9-4 and took the Cajuns to a bowl game, the first bowl game for the program in 41 years.
So far this year, the Cajuns are off to a 4-2 start.
Dan Mullen's name keeps coming up among some Volunteer fans. The argument is, if he can be successful at Mississippi State, one of the toughest sells in the SEC, surely he would be dynamite at a program like Tennessee.
Mullen certainly has the credentials. He was mentored by Urban Meyer for many years. He served as Meyer's QB coach at Bowling Green and Utah. While at Utah, Mullen was responsible for the development of Alex Smith, the current NFL QB star.
When Meyer became head coach at Florida, Mullen served as offensive coordinator and QB coach. He helped coach and develop Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.
In 2009, he was hired by Mississippi State to be their next head coach. This year, Miss State is off to a 7-0 start. And while overall, Mullen's record is only 28-17 and 12-15 in the SEC, he has brought enthusiasm to Starkville. He took State to their first New Year's Bowl game since 1999. State has currently had 20 straight sellouts at Davis-Wade Stadium. Mullen is a great PR guy who knows how to stoke the fires of the fanbase.
The big question is, would Mullen leave Starkville for Rocky Top? It is very rare that an SEC coach leaves one SEC school for another while still coaching in the conference. The last time that happened was in 1998, when Tommy Tuberville left Ole Miss for Auburn. Granted, Houston Nutt left Arkansas for Ole Miss in 2008, but that is only because Nutt had been fired.
Good candidate. Not sure he would leave State.
Personally, I think Tennessee should stay away from Petrino, if for only the public relations nightmare that would follow. However, Tennessee fans want to win and are desperate to get back on top of the SEC. In that regard, Petrino offers them that opportunity. It is a temptation
Petrino's resume speaks for itself. He turned Louisville into a BCS bowl contender in 2006 with a 12-1 season and finished at Louisville with a win-loss record of 41-9
In the four years at Arkansas, Petrino took Arkansas to the Sugar Bowl. Every year Petrino was at Arkansas they made progress
There is no question if Tennessee hired Petrino, he would win at Rocky Top. The question Vol Nation and Tennessee's AD Dave Hart have to ask themselves is: How bad do they want to win?
It is already being whispered about in the state of Arkansas about Davis being one of the first choices for the Razorbacks to hire. Butch Davis knows football. He clearly is an excellent choice to consider for Tennessee on paper.
However, Davis does have baggage. During his tenure as head coach at North Carolina, academic misconduct was found by the NCAA, basically improper tutor association with some of the players. However, in Davis' defense, he was never accused by the NCAA and, to the best of my knowledge, was cleared of any impropriety in the matter.
However, North Carolina, despite a huge fanbase support for Coach Davis, decided it was in the best interest to fire Davis to get the NCAA off their back. Up to the end, Tar Heel fans sided with Davis.
Tennessee has had its own share recently of run-ins with the NCAA, including some recruiting issues back from Lane Kiffin's one year season. The men's basketball program under former coach, Bruce Pearl. Here are the details.
Would hiring Butch Davis simply be egging the NCAA to keep Tennessee under a microscope?
Aside from that, Davis does have an impressive record.
During the early 1990s, he was an assistant coach at the Dallas Cowboys. From 1995-2000, he was head coach at Miami Hurricanes, finishing out 51-20 and his last year 11-1 and ending the season as No. 2 ranked team in the country
From 2000-2004, Davis served as head coach for the Cleveland Browns, and like many coaches that jump from college ranks to the NFL, he found success was harder to come by. He was forced to resign in 2004 after a 24-35 record as head coach.
In 2007, he was hired by North Carolina, and even though he amassed a 28-25 record, recruiting improved and North Carolina got some big wins, including beating Notre Dame and Florida State and losing a close and competitive game against LSU 30-24 in 2010.
Good hire, but Davis and Tennessee have flirted with the NCAA recently, probably a dealbreaker for both of them.
David Cutcliffe has long ties to the University of Tennessee program. In fact, here is his Tennessee resume:
1983-1989- Tight End coach
1990-1993- QB coach
1993-1998- QB and offensive coordinator
2006-2007- Offensive Coordinator
Cutcliffe is remembered the most as the man who helped coach and mentor Peyton Manning and Tee Martin and helping Phil Fulmer win a National Championship in 1998.
Cutcliffe left the first time to take the Ole Miss head coaching job and served from 1998-2004. During that period, he brought Eli Manning to Ole Miss, and before being fired for his first and only losing season at Ole Miss in 2004, he finished his coaching job at Ole Miss with a 44-29 win-loss record and a 4-1 bowl game record.
Cutcliffe came back to Tennessee again in 2006 and helped improve the Vols offense, especially QB Erik Ainge.
In 2008, Cutcliffe left Tennessee again to take the head coaching position at Duke University. Duke is a tough place for football; just ask the former coaches like Ted Roof who finished 6-45 as head coach, or Carl Franks before Roof, who managed a 7-45 all-time win-loss record.
Cutcliffe is in his fifth year at Duke and is sitting at 21-35; thus, he has won more then twice as many games as his two previous predecessors. But more importantly this year, thanks to winning the Victory Bell game over North Carolina, Duke is now bowl-eligible for the first time since 1993.
Before hiring Derek Dooley, Tennessee did offer Cutcliffe the head coaching job. Cutcliffe turned them down, saying,
I have a lot of ties and a lot of people that I'm very close to, and a lot of respect for the University of Tennessee, but my heart is here. We've worked very hard these two years to change the culture, to change the team physically. You feel like the job's not done, and in this era, it bothers me, what we do as coaches, moving here and there.
So if Cutcliffe were to take the Tennessee job, those words would come back to haunt him. However, Cutcliffe does love Tennessee, and considering the situation the Volunteer program is in currently, perhaps with enough pleading and financial inducements, Cutcliffe could change his mind.
Strong ties to Tennessee. Was considered a poor recruiter at Ole Miss yet seems to be turning the Duke football program around slowly. Would Cutcliffe leave Durham for the SEC?