We took Tuesday off from the coaching search. And dang if the landscape didn't completely change. Auburn and Arkansas found their guys. Tennessee is still searching amid reports that their top candidate could stay at his current school.
So where are we? Well, we're going to use the comments here to answer questions and update news that we have heard throughout the day. If you have a question, ask. Today could be a huge day for the Tennessee football program. Today could be another day of uncertainty.
We're hunkered down with a can of vienna sausages, some Saltines and hot sauce. We have access to the interwebs and a willingness to use them. We're here, all day — at least until 5, that's when time-and-a-half kicks in and your subscription rate could double (kidding of course) — and maybe into the evening.
So, yeah, we're dealing with a lot of stuff. Candlesticks always make a nice gift. Or maybe we could find out where they're registered and get them a place setting. Let's get two.
From the "Talks too much studios" c'mon baby, let's light this hire...
Vols coaching search
As our UT ace Downtown Patrick Brown tells us here, despite a lot of smoke there was no hire for the Tennessee football program Tuesday.
That's to be expected. We've said for a while that even if every other job in college football was filled Tuesday, the Vols would do nothing Tuesday in an effort not to steal the headlines of Phillip Fulmer's induction in the college football Hall of Fame. And that's how it should have been. There was nothing that could be done until today.
Well, it's today. And today there needs to be work accomplished.
The reports of Charlie Strong being the top candidate left on the UT board grew in stature throughout Tuesday. Now, Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde is reporting that Louisville is confident that Strong will stay. And remember, before hitting it big time at ESPN, Forde was a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
If Jon Gruden was the grand slam hire, Charlie Strong would be no worse than a home run hire. If it's not Strong — a guy that the 5-at-10 has said from the start would be the second-best hire and fit out there for UT behind Gruden — then the smokescreen names like Mike Gundy and Larry Fedora and whomever else may get another spin around the rumor mill.
With the developments at the other high-profile SEC openings (more on that below), the spotlight is clearly on Tennessee. And that spotlight can highlight stars, reveal blemishes or cast shadows, but know this: That spotlight gets hotter and hotter the longer it's on you.
And until Dave Hart and Co. make a hire, that spotlight will be intense.
UT coaching search review
What do we know? What do we truly know about the UT coaching search?
We know that as long as UT does not settle for Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's or some goof who decides to retain Sal — SAAALLLLLL!!! — Sunseri, this hire will be an upgrade. When making a coaching change, the first question should always be "Who are you going to get that's better?" When the situation is/was as broken as the Dooley Era, that question is secondary because the change is predicated by the simple fact that it could not get worse.
We know that the longer it takes, the more that will limit the new staff's chance to make noise on the recruiting trail.
We also know that the right hire is more important than getting a Power T visor on the table in front of a four-star tackle in February.
We know that our top three candidates from the beginning in terms of quality and fit for the UT job were, in order, Gruden, Strong and Jimbo Fisher.
We know that if the names that emerge today are Gundy and Fedora or another round of coaches who have not yet been a big part of the internal or external discussions, then more than a few coaches have either decided UT was not the job they wanted, played Hart and Co. for a raise or some of each.
We know the longer it takes — unless it circles back to The One that shall not be named, Lord Grudemort — the more it means either this is a taller order than we thought or the pitch is less than enticing. If it's not Strong today or in the next 48 hours, there may be some unknown speedbumps. C'mon, Bret Bielema leaves the Big Ten champ to take a middle of the road SEC job at Arkansas, and if Strong stays, the power program that is UT can't lure a guy from the Big East? That does not add up.
Coach hirings (with grades)
As Tennessee tipped its visor to Phillip Fulmer on Tuesday, Arkansas and Auburn hired their next head football coaches.
Arkansas lured Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. So yes, that means that the guy that has won the last three Big Ten titles wants so desperately out that he takes a rebuilding project with a upper-mid-level SEC team. That seems more a Legends move than Leaders move, no?
Anyhoo, the more we think about this, the more we say congrats to Arkansas AD Jeff Long for swinging for the fences and getting a guy with a 68-24 record in a power conference with multiple BCS trips on his resume. Now, we're not sure if Bielema is ready for the rough-and-tumble world that is the SEC — remember the recruiting flap Bielema got into with Urban Meyer earlier this year about recruiting players that were committed to other schools? Uh, Bret, nothing's official until the ink's dry guy. And remember when Bret was reminded of that fact, he said, "I can tell you this. We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC — in any way, shape or form.”
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn looks at the scoreboard during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
While Arkansas was luring Bielema, Auburn pulled Gus Malzahn from Arkansas State. Gang, as an Auburn grad we couldn't be more pleased with this hire, especially with the early rumblings that it was going to be Petrino and the growing rumors Tuesday that Alabama's Kirby Smart was emerging as a leading candidate.
Petrino is going to win games wherever he goes. He's also going to leave it worse off than he found it. Smart is going to be a fine coach, but the questions about how much of that defense is Smart and how much is the Dark Lord are fair (and magnified after the debacle that was Sal — SAAALLLLL!!! — Sunseri). Plus, wherever Smart goes, we believe he'll be the frontrunner for the Georgia job whenever Mark Richt decides to leave, and if you're Auburn you can't risk that being in the next couple of seasons.
So that leaves Malzahn, who is the best possible combination elite-level coach and fit that Auburn fans could have hoped for. The Tigers were 30-10 in his three years as the offensive coordinator there, and while his offense gets a lot of credit for allowing Cam Newton to become Cam Newton, Malzahn's best coaching job may have been making Chris Todd a record-setting Auburn quarterback in 2009.
Plus, with the guts of this team being recruited to run Malzahn's offense, the potential is there for a quick turnaround. Granted, Malzahn has work to do ASAP — hiring a defensive coordinator and keeping together a recruiting class that is ranked in the top 10 nationally and includes three of the top 20 players in the country — but we believe this to be an excellent hire. (And sweet buckets, how happy is Kiehl Frazier this morning?)
So, gauging coaching skills, resume and fit, here's the report card for coaches hiring to date (and feel free to weigh in with your grades):
Auburn hiring Gus Malzahn — A
Arkansas hiring Bret Bielema — B to B+ (dude has a sterling resume; we're not sure he's a great fit in the SEC, though; and, there are too many celebrating Wisconsin fans we know for us to believe this was a home run hire)
NC State hiring Dave Doeren — B (we like this higher, and after a strong run at Northern Illinois, Doeren could do work at NC State)
Boston College hiring Steve Addazio — C (not unlike the Tennessee situation, Addazio enters with no place to go but up)
Kentucky hiring Mark Stoops — C+ (Not sold on this one; thought UK could have lured maybe one of the bigger-named coordinators or even a Doeren or a Taggart or a Sonny Dykes. And if they approached Dykes and he turned it down, well, he better start saying yes pretty soon because eventually, like the guys chasing the stuck-up girl, they quit asking after too many "No ways.")
That leaves job openings at big-boy programs such as Wisconsin and Tennessee and next tier jobs at Cal, Colorado, Purdue, USF. And of course the jobs that are opened by the guys that fill these jobs. Ah, the silly season, it's so silly.
This and that
— Phillip Fulmer was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, and with each passing year, his accomplishments in Knoxville only get better. His career and his resume — especially from 1997-2001 — can be fairly described as a fine wine that gets better with age. Here's a column from all-around ace Ward Gossett, who spent a large chunk of Fulmer's tenure chasing the Vols.
— Former Brewers MVP Robin Yount shot former teammate and current Cubs manager Dale Sveum on a quail hunting trip. Sveum recounted the offseason event at baseball's winter meetings and said his injuries were minor. And they were likely less painful than watching his Cubs team play last year. OUCH-standing.
— There is cautious optimism about the NHL labor talks. That's great. If there's going to be cautious optimism about the sport as a whole moving forward, when this deal gets done, commissioner Gary Bettman needs to be reassigned to driving the zamboni at a minor league arena three times a week.
— It caused us to do the discount double check but the Washington Wizards — the worst team in the NBA — beat Miami 105-101 Tuesday. It was a head-scratcher to say the least.
The New Orleans Hornets are becoming the New Orleans Pelicans. We're not sure why either.
And while Hornets may not be the first name in pro sports that needs changing, it's not like it's an iconic one either. In fact, you can make an argument that the first name that needs to be changed is the Utah Jazz, who moved West from New Orleans many moons ago and kept the Jazz mascot.
Let's talk team names:
What's the best? What's the worst? If you could change any three in pro sports, what are they and what would you change them to (we can assure you the New Orleans Pelicans does not make that list).
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...