Tennessee Head Coach Search: So Who's Left?
Well, it appeared that the head coaching job at Tennessee was down to three candidates, but all three have reportedly turned the job down.
First was Mike Gundy, who refused Tennessee's offer Wednesday morning. Then a North Carolina recruit eliminated Larry Fedora's name from the list. Finally, on Wednesday night, after a lot of back and forth, Charlie Strong also refused the Vols.
That puts Tennessee in quite a sticky situation. With a lot of the hot names already claiming jobs at other places, there aren't many qualified applicants left.
With Rocky Top approaching panic mode, which promising coaches are still out there?
Here are a few.
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati Head Coach
A little while ago, I speculated that Butch Jones was the most likely candidate for the Tennessee job. I may still be right.
Colorado has offered Jones a very good deal, but so far, he has yet to agree to terms with them. That means that there's a chance that Tennessee could still get him.
If Dave Hart wants to make that happen, he'll have to move quickly though. Colorado isn't going to wait forever, and you can bet Jones knows it. If Tennessee doesn't call very soon, he'll end up in the Pac-12 and Tennessee will be resorting to Plan B (or, more accurately, Plan F).
Jones has a good winning record, and has followed in Brian Kelly's footsteps at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
If he can bring the same kind of tough defense to Tennessee that Kelly has brought to Notre Dame, he'd be a great hire.
2. Gary Andersen, Utah State Head Coach
Another of the few hires I'd be satisfied with is Gary Andersen. He was a part of Utah's defensive staff from 1997 to 2002 under Urban Meyer, and then again from 2004 to 2008, meaning that he was there when Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 31-17.
Now, he's the head coach of Utah State, where he's done pretty well for himself. He has a 25-24 record there. This season, he led the Aggies to a 10-2 record, a WAC championship and a bowl berth against Toledo.
He knows defense, and that is what Tennessee needs right now more than anything else. It also doesn't hurt that the Urban Meyer coaching tree has been much more successful thus far than the Nick Saban coaching tree.
3. Kirby Smart, Alabama Defensive Coordinator
Kirby Smart is a name that's been in the mix all along. Like I said before, the Nick Saban coaching tree has not been good to Tennessee so far, but there are exceptions.
Smart has been the man behind the most dominant defense in college football over the last few years, and that is certainly appealing. A decent defense this season could have made a difference in several Tennessee games.
But again, Derek Dooley was supposed to be a Saban disciple too. Even though he was a nice guy who brought a lot of talent to the team, he just didn't put it all together. The same risks come with Kirby Smart.
Being a part of Alabama's defensive group doesn't guarantee success either. Just look at Sal Sunseri.
There's also the fact that Smart may like his cushy job at Alabama, who may win their third national championship in four years. As long as Saban is there, Smart has an easy, safe, high-paying job, and he may not want to leave.
4. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette Head Coach
Mark Hudspeth seems to be an up-and-comer. He's in the lowly Sun Belt, but he's led the Ragin' Cajuns to a 17-8 record in the two years he's been there.
Before that, he was at FCS school Northern Alabama, where he compiled a 66-21 record and led the team to the FCS playoffs five times, making it to the semi-finals three times.
Overall, his win record is an impressive 83-29. Sure, he's only won at the lower levels, but all he's done is win.
If he gets a chance to play with SEC-caliber players, there's no reason to think he couldn't keep up the winning ways.
Oh yeah, one more thing. The Cajuns were a doormat in the Sun Belt before Hudspeth came in, and they turned around immediately.
5. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State Head Coach
Like Hudspeth, Tim DeRuyter is an obscure name, but may not be a terrible one given the situation Tennessee finds itself in.
In his one year at Fresno State, he's led the team to a respectable 9-3 record. Before that, he was the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, meaning he's the guy who brought along players like Von Miller, Sean Porter and Damontre Moore.
He also turned a terrible defense into a pretty good defense in just a year's time. Now he has a year of head coaching experience under his belt as well (he was also interim head coach at Texas A&M in 2011, with a 1-0 record).
He's by no means a proven commodity. But at the same time, he's got a lot of potential, and can at least bring decent defense back in Tennessee.
6. Kyle Flood, Rutgers Head Coach
Next to Kirby Smart, Kyle Flood has the least amount of head coaching experience on this list. However, again second to Smart, he's got the highest profile program on the list.
Flood is the current head coach of the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. In his one season as a head coach, he's led them to a 9-3 record and only a few points short of a BCS berth.
Before that, he was the Rutgers offensive line coach from 2006 to 2011. That's not a very high profile position in comparison to the many former coordinators on the list, but Tennessee is getting desperate.
One thing he brings to the table is that his former boss, Greg Schiano, is a current NFL head coach and is doing a pretty good job with the Buccaneers. NFL connections always make recruits happy.
And just think: If Flood had two seasons under his belt like the one he just had with the Scarlet Knights, he'd easily be one of the top candidates for the job.
7. John Chavis, LSU Defensive Coordinator
If only there were a high-profile, defensive-minded coach with experience in the SEC and ties to Tennessee. What? There is? Oh yeah.
John Chavis has proven to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. LSU has had one of the country's top defenses year in and year out since Chavis took the job there. Before that, he built a defensive juggernaut at Tennessee.
He also played at Tennessee under Hall of Fame coach Johnny Majors and got his coaching start at Tennessee under Hall of Fame coach Phil Fulmer. He's a guy who could be a Vol for life.
So what's the problem?
The problems with Chavis are twofold. First, like David Cutcliffe, he may still be a little bitter about how he and Tennessee parted ways. Chavis coached under Fulmer for nearly 20 years, so he may feel ambivalent about taking Fulmer's old job.
Second, he has no experience as a head coach. Kirby Smart is younger, just as successful as a defensive coordinator and capable of doing some damage to a team Tennessee has to play every year.
However, Chavis has connections to Tennessee and a very good résumé. He wouldn't be the worst hire in the world either, especially considering the position Tennessee is in now.