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Tennessee Volunteers Football: Why 6 HC Candidates Will (and Won't) Take the Job

Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIINovember 25, 2012

Tennessee Volunteers Football: Why 6 HC Candidates Will (and Won't) Take the Job

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    So now that Tennessee's season is officially over, the search for the next head coach will begin. A lot of names have been thrown around, but there's not much way to tell who will take the job outside of speculation.

    That said, there seems to be at least some consistency in the lists that have been put out there. Jon Gruden, Charlie Strong, Kirby Smart, Art Briles, Dan Mullen and Butch Jones seem to be among the more prominent names that are getting thrown around.

    So let's look at each one, and figure out why they would be tempted to join the Vols, and why they'd rather stay where they are.

1. Jon Gruden, ESPN Analyst

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    Jon Gruden's name is the one you're most likely to hear when you talk to Tennessee fans about who the next head coach will be, and he's probably the most high-profile coach whose name is out there, so we'll start with him.

     

    Why He Will

    Gruden got his start at Tennessee as a graduate assistant, and his wife is a Tennessee alum. He's also a bit of a quarterback guru, and he knows he could work Tyler Bray into a top prospect.

    If you've ever seen ESPN's Quarterback Camp with Jon Gruden, you may have picked up on the fact that Gruden is a little bitter about getting fired from his job at Tampa.

    There's also the fact that he didn't take an NFL head coaching job last season, when he was supposedly interested in the Dolphins. That tells me that he may not be looking to rejoin the ranks of the NFL coaches, so if he returns to coaching, it may be at the college level.

    It wouldn't be the first time Tennessee hired a former Raiders head coach.

     

    Why He Won't

    Even though Tennessee is a pinnacle program, for a Super Bowl winning coach, a college job is small potatoes.

    Gruden's ties to Tennessee aren't that strong, and he will get NFL offers. He's also never been a head coach at the college level and has spent nearly his entire career in the NFL.

    In the end, I just don't see Gruden coming to Tennessee unless he has decided, for whatever reason, that he would just rather be a college head coach than an ESPN analyst or an NFL coach.

2. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Head Coach

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    Dan Mullen would be the next biggest name on the list. After all, a lateral hire from within the SEC is certainly a big deal.

     

    Why He Will

    While Mississippi State has been very successful under Mullen, it was a perennial bottom-dweller before that, and Starkeville, Mississippi, isn't the biggest or the brightest place to be.

    There's also the fact that Les Miles and Nick Saban aren't going anywhere any time soon, and now Texas A&M is making its voice heard as a competitor for the SEC West crown. Then there's always Arkansas, who were fantastic as little as a year ago.

    Tough division to win in.

     

    Why He Won't

    Is Tennessee really that big of an upgrade over Mississippi State? A move to Tennessee would still be pitting Mullen against Saban every year, so that doesn't help.

    Furthermore, he's got a good thing going at Mississippi State. He's had a winning season every year but his first there, and a school that's used to being the doormat is probably going to be a lot more patient than a place like Tennessee.

    I just don't see Mullen leaving an SEC program that's doing well for an SEC program that isn't doing so well, when it's all said and done.

3. Charlie Strong, Louisville Head Coach

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    Charlie Strong is my favorite head coach candidate right now. I think he'll be the first to get a phone call from Dave Hart, and if he takes the job, I'll be ecstatic as a Tennessee fan.

     

    Why He Will

    The Big East still has an auto-bid, but it's still second fiddle to the Big 10, the Pac 12 and the SEC. Tennessee would be an upgrade over what he's doing now.

    The Big East is also a sinking ship, and Strong may decide it's now or never if he has higher ambitions.

    Furthermore, Strong spent the majority of his career in the SEC, so even though he doesn't have ties to Tennessee specifically, he is familiar with the program.

     

    Why He Won't

    Tennessee isn't the only program that's going to be looking at Strong. Arkansas will be needing a head coach this year, and Strong is an Arkansas native who may decide he'd rather go home than coach on Rocky Top.

    A lot of schools will be calling Strong's name. Tennessee is certainly one of the biggest programs in the market, but it'll certainly have company.

4. Kirby Smart, Alabama Defensive Coordinator

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    Now I know Dave Hart said he wants guys with head coaching experience, but that's an ideal situation. If the first couple of guys on Hart's list turn him down, Kirby Smart will start to look pretty appealing.

     

    Why He Will

    Smart has been a hot-name coordinator for a couple of years now. After all, Alabama consistently fields one of the nation's top defenses. Smart will be looking to make the leap to head coach at some point.

    Tennessee would reunite him with Dave Hart and Sal Sunseri, both of whom he's worked with before, and his experience at Alabama might help iron out some of the problems Sunseri has had installing the 3-4 defense.

     

    Why He Won't

    First of all, because Tennessee would much rather have a guy with head coaching experience. As impressive as Smart's tenure as a defensive coordinator has been, he may be essentially the same guy Derek Dooley was.

    He also may not like the idea of facing his mentor every year, which he'll have to do if he takes the Tennessee job.

    So far, Tennessee's forays into the Saban coaching tree haven't gone well (Dooley and Sunseri), so I don't see them saying to themselves that third time's a charm unless the top choices turn them down.

5. Butch Jones, Cincinnati Head Coach

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    If Tennessee can't land Jon Gruden or Charlie Strong, Butch Jones is the guy I'm hoping for. As Brian Kelly's replacement at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Jones would hopefully replicate for Tennessee what Kelly is doing at Notre Dame.

     

    Why He Will

    Like Charlie Strong, Jones coaches in the Big East, which is a sinking ship of a conference. Even though Cincinnati has done well there, it isn't one of the big jobs.

    Last season, Jones got to see first hand how different the SEC was when Tennessee beat Cincinnati 45-23. Tennessee did not become bowl eligible, but Cincinnati finished the season 10-3.

    The Tennessee job would be a big step up for Jones, and if he was offered, I'd imagine he'd take it.

     

    Why He Won't

    Jones is likely fourth or fifth on Tennessee's wish list. If someone in front of him ends up getting hired, he won't even get called.

    Furthermore, if Strong bolts for a better job, then Jones could have his way with the Big East and wait for a job he really wants, since he doesn't have any SEC ties that I'm aware of.

    Like I said, if he was the hire, I'd be satisfied, but he'd only be the hire if several other guys aren't interested.

6. Art Briles, Baylor Head Coach

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    Art Briles is an interesting candidate. He is already a head coach at a BCS school, but Tennessee would definitely be an upgrade.

     

    Why He Will

    Briles is a BCS coach, but the team he's coaching is Baylor. They aren't exactly the cream of the crop, but the Big 12 is not nearly as low key as the Big East.

    He's led the Bears to three winning seasons in five years (that's counting this year) and put up a consistently good offense. He has several years of head coaching experience against top opponents and has some signature wins on his resume.

     

    Why He Won't

    OK, to be fair, his only great season was 2011, when his team was quarterbacked by Robert Griffin III, who was kind of a big deal. I don't know how much credit Briles deserves for Griffin's development, but it's certainly a factor.

    Remove that season, and he has a much less impressive 21-27 record as a head coach. That's not anything that makes you excited, is it?

    Briles would, in my opinion, be kind of a desperation hire. If the other guys on this list turn Tennessee down, then Briles could be the guy, but otherwise, I don't see it.

Dark Horses

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    There are some other guys whose names haven't been thrown around as much as the others on this list, if at all, but I think are worth mentioning. This list is entirely made up by me, but if one of these guys is the hire, I'll have a great "Told You So" moment.

     

    James Franklin, Vanderbilt Head Coach

    To be honest, I do not know why he isn't being mentioned as a favorite right now. Not only has Franklin dominated in-state recruiting, but he took Vanderbilt to two straight bowl appearances.

    This year, Vandy finished with an eight-win season. Vandy! The definition of floormat in the SEC. If he can do that with their program, just imagine what he could do with the talent he'd bring to Tennessee.

     

    Jim Chaney, Tennessee Offensive Coordinator

    Tennessee's coffers are a little bare right now. A cheap way to get a head coach could be to promote from within.

    Jim Chaney has made Tennessee's offenses consistently good from the day he came here. If he were given a shot at the big job, Tennessee could afford to make a big hire at the defensive coordinator position and get the defense up to par.

    With Chaney's current offense and a legitimate defense, Tennessee could have had a few more wins this year.

    As I said earlier, I haven't really heard these options being discussed, but they're options that should be. After all, no one had Derek Dooley in mind when Lane Kiffin split for USC, and few had Kiffin in mind when Phil Fulmer was fired, so stranger things have happened.

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