Tennessee Football: Why Did the Dave Hart Coaching Search Look so Bad?

Richard Allen@@RacingWithRichAnalyst IDecember 16, 2012

Tennessee Football: Why Did the Dave Hart Coaching Search Look so Bad?

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    Butch Jones is now entering his second full week as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee. Unfortunately, the search that brought him to the school did him no favors as fans on Rocky Top seemed more disappointed than pleased when the announcement came that the former Cincinnati Bearcats leader was moving to Knoxville.

    Volunteers athletic director opted not to hire a search committee in the process of replacing former coach Derek Dooley. Instead, he led the search himself. And as that search progressed, it came off looking somewhat disjointed, if not desperate.

    So what went wrong?

Jon Gruden Rumors Were Allowed to Run out of Control

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    What was the biggest problem with Tennessee's coaching search?

    It targeted all the wrong people, allowing fans to believe for too long that certain coaches were in play when they really weren't.

    Weeks before Derek Dooley was fired, Jon Gruden's name was most tossed around as the favorite among Vols fans to lead the team through the Pride of the Southland Band's "T" in 2013.

    But not long after the search began officially, it became apparent that the former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst did not want the job, as much as the fans wanted him to have it.

    At the time, Dave Hart's search had gone underground. Instead, he should have been making public statements regarding the Gruden situation. As a result, the "Grumors" were allowed to run out of control on Twitter and Facebook, as fans and media began to create their own stories to take the place of those that were not being communicated.

    Many of those scenarios had Gruden accepting the job in exchange for vast amounts of money and even an ownership stake of the Cleveland Browns.

    Gruden's agent eventually spoke out, revealing the Super Bowl-winning coach was not a candidate for the job. And in an even more damaging blow to the psyche of the faithful in Vol Nation, the agent went on to call the idea of his client taking the job "a fantasy."

    There was certainly no harm in gauging Gruden's interest in the job. Hart would have been doing the university a disservice had he not sought out the coach. However, the mistake was made when the AD went underground rather than keeping fans up-to-date. As a result, their hopes got so high that no matter who else might be introduced, it would be a disappointment.

Mike Gundy Likely Used the Vols in a Power Play

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    After the Grunden debacle, Hart's search then turned its focus onto Mike Gundy.

    Again, this represented the problem of targeting the wrong person.

    Gundy is the current coach at his alma mater, which would seemingly make him hard to pry away. That task would be made even more difficult when it is considered that the Oklahoma State coach is already well paid by an athletic department funded by the deep pockets of booster T. Boone Pickens.

    And further, there is the real possibility that Hart and the Volunteers simply served as a pawn in a power struggle between Gundy and OSU athletic director Mike Holder. If it wasn't embarrassing enough to have the Gruden hopes called "a fantasy," being used in a power play only served to further dishearten Vols fans.

    Again, there was nothing wrong with gauging Gundy's interest. However, before becoming terribly entangled with Gundy, some understanding of the situation had to be gained. But at this point in the search, Hart appeared to be feeling the pressure of the school's fans and boosters. Perhaps it was hoped that the lure of a high profile coach—who might be dissatisfied enough to leave his alma mater—would cause quite a stir.

Vols Search Takes Embarrassing Turn with Charlie Strong Pursuit

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    It was after being turned down by Gruden and Gundy that Dave Hart's search took its most embarrassing turn.

    University of Louisville coach Charlie Strong became the front runner for the Volunteers head job and, at one point, seemed destined to move to Knoxville. Media members and fans alike took to the Internet and radio talk shows with reports of airplane departures and speculated times of the pending press conference.

    However, the moment it seemed a virtual certainty that Strong would soon be wearing orange, there was hesitation. Once again, Hart seemed to have reached for the unreachable.

    Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich and school President Dr. James Ramsey had vowed to keep Strong, even if it meant engaging in a financial test of wills to do so. The result was indeed a bidding war that ended with Strong getting a significant raise to stay in Louisville and Tennessee moving on to the next candidate.

    At this point, it appeared as though Hart and Tennessee could not land a coach even if they were willing to overpay for their guy. This was yet another blow to the psyche on Rocky Top.

Dave Hart Gets His Man...Finally

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    Finally, after the roller-coaster ride described in the previous slides, Dave Hart's search zeroed in on University of Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. And unlike the other candidates, he actually seemed to want the job, even going so far as to call it his "dream job."

    But after having had their hopes set on Gruden, Gundy and Strong, Butch Jones did not seem to be the Vol Nation's dream coach.

    As a matter of fact, a certain degree of resentment greeted his hiring.

    A coach from the Big East with few ties to the school or the SEC was not exactly what some fans had in mind after Derek Dooley was fired.

    If Jones wins football games, all will be forgotten in regard to the debacle of the coaching search. But the season, and thus the opportunity to prove himself, is months away. The task before him is a daunting one, and the search that resulted in his hiring has not inspired all of the Tennessee fan base.

Does Dave Hart's Fate Lie with Butch Jones?

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    Ultimately, Butch Jones had better work out as Tennessee's head football coach for his sake and for the sake of Dave Hart.

    Should this hire turn out to be a bust, it's likely that the current Volunteers athletic director will not lead the next search.


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