published Friday, January 15th, 2010

UT still looking

Former coordinator Cutcliffe on big list of coach candidates


by Wes Rucker
  • photo
    Lane Kiffin speaks as he is introduced as the University of Southern California's football coach Wednesday in Los Angeles. (AP photo)

KNOXVILLE -- Whether he went to the candidates, the candidates went to him or they met in neutral locations, University of Tennessee men's athletic director Mike Hamilton spent Thursday meeting looking for a new football coach.

Myriad media outlets reported at various times that several coaches had taken the job.

But the Volunteers went to bed with interim head coach Kippy Brown still in charge of the team.

The most commonly referenced candidates at the beginning, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, issued statements Thursday that didn't specifically eliminate UT but emphasized commitments to their current jobs.

A third name, former Vols assistant David Cutcliffe, emerged later in the day. Several media outlets in Tennessee and North Carolina reported the Duke head coach accepted the position, but several UT sources told The Times Free Press those reports were premature.

Four head coaches -- Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley (also the athletic director), Connecticut's Randy Edsall, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Utah's Kyle Whittingham -- entered the mix later Thursday evening. Sources from UT said Hamilton at least made inquiries about those four coaches, but officials from their four schools would not confirm that on the record.

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, a former UT assistant, also has been mentioned in connection with the Vols.

The Cutcliffe reports stirred up mixed emotions from UT supporters. Every time Cutcliffe has worn orange, the Vols have scored a lot of points and played in big bowl games. But Cutcliffe never was UT's head coach.

Cutcliffe, 56, spent two stints at UT as an assistant -- 1982-98 and 2006-07. He was the coordinator of several explosive Vols offenses from 1993 to '98 and his entire second stint, which was sandwiched between head coaching jobs at Mississippi and Duke.

Officials at UT and Duke would not confirm reports that Cutcliffe accepted the job, or even confirm his status as the leading candidate, but sources say Hamilton and Cutcliffe have had serious discussions. One of their possible negotiation snags, according to several sources, is how many Duke assistants Cutcliffe would bring with him to Knoxville. That staff loyalty was a sticking point that helped lead to his termination at Ole Miss in 2004.

Former UT head coach Phillip Fulmer said he not only supported Cutcliffe's return to the Vols as head coach but that Cutcliffe was "exactly" the kind of stabilizing force the program needed.

"That would be really good news for him, and the Tennessee football program," Fulmer said of Cutcliffe, who has also been endorsed by former Vols quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Erik Ainge.

Cutcliffe, a Birmingham native and Alabama graduate, sent all his children to UT and has said several times that his entire family considers Knoxville "home."

Hiring Cutcliffe could divide a Vols fan base that grew tired of the program's old guard, though. And for his unquestioned success as a coordinator, Cutcliffe's head coaching resume isn't peerless.

Cutcliffe's age and health also are concerns. He accepted an assistant head coaching position at Notre Dame in 2005 before leaving the Irish to undergo triple-bypass surgery on a 99 percent blocked heart artery. Cutcliffe has dieted and exercised more since the surgery -- he runs practically every day -- and no serious health problems have surfaced in recent years.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

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