It’s speculation time in Tennessee!
That’s right, it’s time for everyone to once again get in line and cast their vote, this time on who shall replace Phillip Fulmer as the Vols coach. What a responsibility it is for Tennessee Athletic Director, Mike Hamilton who holds 270 of the 538 votes here that actually count (see: electoral college). His vote not only greatly determines the future of the program, but also of his own job security.
This is the first time that the University has had a true election since 1926 when Robert Neyland was recruited from West Point to coach the Vols. Ever since Neyland held the reigns, the coaching position has stayed within the Volunteer family with one exception, Doug Dickey. Dickey, the former Florida quarterback, was hand selected, however, by then Athletic Director Bob Woodruff.
So, uh, what do we do? Where do we look this time to replace a legend? How do you make sure Tennessee doesn’t go through a significant down period like many other prominent schools have?
These are the questions that are being discussed around Knoxville just as much, if not more than, that other recent election…something about a new President?
Mike Hamilton is now following the Phillip Fulmer business model to find a new coach. That is, he is “workin’ like heck."
Before we begin speculating about some candidates, I’ll briefly discuss what to look for in a candidate and how to get the process started.
The first order of business for Hamilton will be to hire a search firm to scout the potential coaches out there. Expect that to be done in the next couple of days and look for Hamilton to hire The Parker Group out of Atlanta. This is the group Hamilton went to in order to find current baseball coach Todd Raleigh.
What such a firm brings to the table is the ability to do all your background checks, and additionally they can begin conversations with potential coaching prospects.
At this point in the mid-season Mike Hamilton will not have access to speaking to any other collegiate coaches and he cannot speak to any NFL coaches until after the NFL season. So what the firm would be able to do is go ahead and speak to some coaches and gauge interest in the Vols open coaching position. They can then create a list of possible candidates accordingly.
Now that all the groundwork is set I’ll point out what I would look for in a candidate based on Hamilton’s past.
Hamilton’s first hire was Bruce Pearl from Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A grand-slam selection. Note that he looked to a small school. However, also note that Pearl was always regarded as a great coach with a great record but he had been somewhat blacklisted because he turned in the coach at Iowa for violations.
Next Hamilton hired Todd Raleigh from Western Carolina. A good selection thus far. Also note that he again looked to a small school.
Based on these two selections logic points me to believing that Hamilton will once again look to a smaller school, and that’s what I’ve been hearing from some sources. However, I personally think that the Tennessee football program is a completely different situation.
When you are at a small school, you are creating something out of nothing and you’re doing it against weak competition. Both Pearl and Raleigh came from programs where they were successful with little talent, but each also took a Tennessee sport with mediocre talent and then translated it into success. That is not what the Tennessee football job is.
I would say to look for a few smaller school coaches to be in contention but also look for Hamilton to get the biggest and best name he can. As I opened the article pointing out, we are replacing a legend and it looks bad if you don't make it worthwile.
Now for my top four candidates to watch in a ballot of sorts (not necessarily MY favorites):
1. Lane Kiffin
Kiffin will be a college coach next season. He is the “sexy” selection. The question is if it will be Tennessee, Clemson, or Washington that lands him. Also, the rumor mill is cranking out news that Kiffin is in Knoxville today and playing golf with a prominent booster. This has also been confirmed by a Knoxville local news station.
2. Will Muschamp
Muschamp is a fiery guy that is an exciting defensive minded coach. I think he’ll be high on the Vols list, but won’t top the list. I also think that if Tubberville is out in Auburn, Muschamp could return and take over the head position there. The biggest thing holding Muschamp back at this point is his lack of experience as a head coach.
3. Mike Leach
Leach is a hot option right now in the coaching realm and if he doesn’t get a new contract after this season he could end up jetting. However, I just can’t see his system or coaching ideology working in the SEC. He has been quoted however saying that he would like to prove his worth on the top level.
4. Gary Patterson
Patterson above all else is proven. He is a conservative Fulmer-like choice that is a proven winner. He is currently on his way to his fifth 10 win season at TCU. That's pretty solid these days. Patterson could be an option if Hamilton stays true to his claim to look for a coach with great leadership abilities that can sell the program. The question would be whether or not he's interested in leaving.
There certainly are others that I could name or discuss, but those are the four that I would consider the ones to watch the most. Like it or not whomever Mike Hamilton chooses to replace Phillip Fulmer will certainly have a legend attached to his name from here on out. The question yet to be answered is whether or not it will be a legend he wishes he was a part of. On that note, happy voting!