published Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

5-at-10: Coaching search command center; we're all about hires, fires, tires and suppliers

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.”

  • photo
    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.

————

  • photo
    Former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer is part of tonight's induction class in the College Football Hall of Fame. He says he's "graciously accepting" but at 62 is "too dang young" to be out of coaching.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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.

———

Today's questions

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).

about Jay Greeson...

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 ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
TennFlyer said...

Best name -- Macon Whoopee ECHL, Milwaukee Brewers (beer is always good Worse name -- Chicago Cubs, off spring of the football team? Three to change -- KC Royals to the Serfs, nothing royal about them. Indiana Pacers, get the race reference, just pace yourself? Anaheim Ducks -- ducks take to ice how exactly? I know the Disney ties but that was a while ago.

December 5, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
BIspy4 said...

I went to the big boss' quail hunting plantation once. The first rule was don't shoot one of the dogs, even by accident. The second rule was don't shoot one of the dogs, even by accident.

Um, someone wanna tell UT the music is stopping soon and there weren't be any coaches left to fill the chair? Auburn, I think, went the safe route and got Malzahn. Aside from his days at Springdale High in Arkansas (and whatever did become of Mitch Mustain?), his head coaching is limited to one year at Arkansas State. He knows offense but going from Arkansas State and the Sun Belt to Auburn in the SEC West is a mighty big step up.

Arkansas getting Bielema is hooge. Dude can coach and Wisconsin has put quite a few guys in the pros. He may not yet have the connections across the South to tap into but he can point to his success in the Very Big 10.

Strong would be strong for UT. Maybe not a grand slam but certainly a bases-clearing double to the gap. I remain unconvinced and unsold on the Gruden lovefest. Besides, too many NFL jobs are about to open up that will be extraordinarily appealing and someone with Gruden's cachet will be able to finagle such perks as player personnel decision making power.

And how can you not wish to change the name of the Utah Jazz.

December 5, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.
jgreeson said...

TennFlyer —

Macon Whoppee. Excellent call. We also like the Albuquerque Isotopes on a fan vote that was named for the team in Springfield on the Simpsons.

We're with Spy, the Utah Anythings would be better than the Jazz. Utah Mailmen. Utah Polygamists. Heck, go corporate and be the Utah YouTubes.

Spy —

It's a big step, but Malzahn's history at AU makes it doable. But one year of Sun Belt head coaching experience is better than Smart's 0 years of any head coaching experience. (The last AU head coach hired without head coaching experience was Doug Barfield, and we all see how that turned out.)

We're in. And maybe it's because of the reverse sell of lowering expectations and then delivering the goods.

Conversely we're not as sold on Bielema.

And if you think Gruden would be anything short of a grand slam for UT, you're mistaken. We're not sure what Gruden's future as a potential college coach could hold — but you can say that about all hires, really — but Gruden's rock-star status would energize the program to new levels. There'd be 100K at the Spring Game for crying out loud.

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 11:19 a.m.
jgreeson said...

COACHING UPDATE

Purdue hires Darrell Hazell, the former Kent State coach. Good hire. Dude led Kent State to its first bowl game in almost four decades.

That bowl game was the GoDaddy.com Bowl, where an interim Kent State coach will face an interim Arkansas State coach. This is the fifth consecutive year the GoDaddy.com Bowl has at least one interim coach roaming the sidelines.

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Jay-

Other than Tennessee, I really don't care who hires whom from the other schools. But since its your job to report this and everyone else does follow this, I can just skim through. Since I have to leave for work early (rescheduled dental appointment), I'll have that letter for you for the mail bag on Friday Deal? deal.

Phoenix Cardinals. Hands down! There is no such bird in that region. Phoenix Vultures might be too morbid or intemidating and Rattlers would be a copy off of the D-backs.

Memphis Grizzlies is a little "odd" given West Tennessee geographic make-up (If the team were in Knoxville which is Smokey Mountain country, it would fit). I would go with either Memphis Houndbogs or Memphis Grace (which really rolls off the tongue nicely).

Brooklyn Nets. Can't really think of a good name but will still associate it with the New Jersey Nets.

December 5, 2012 at 11:27 a.m.
John_Proctor said...

Sweet buckets of bird shot! Robin Yount goes all Dick Cheney on Dale Sveum. And, yes, the pain from the shooting has to be less than the pain from watching the Cubbies play.

Since the statute of limitations has expired, I can speak with experience as to how painful bird shot can be. The story involves watermelons, a car load of teenage males and beer. The rest is best left unsaid since the 5@10 is a family oriented enterprise.

December 5, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
jgreeson said...

Mr Proctor —

There a ton of ways to end a story that starts, "Shot guns, watermelons, car load of teenage males and beer," and most of them are bad. And awesome.

And thanks for the decorum, this is most definitely a family-oriented, interweb-based sports column.

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 11:35 a.m.
jgreeson said...

JMC —

Like your list.

Brooklyn Nets needs work. Let's think on that. We're OK with the Arizona Cardinals if for no other reason than we like their unis.

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.
BIspy4 said...

People in the stands does not translate to success on the field. Success on the field translates, ordinarily, to people in the stands.

Gruden hasn't had to recruit in a long time, and there's no telling how much or little recruiting he did years ago. There is much bridge rebuilding to do for the Vols in some of its traditionally best recruiting areas.

Plus, he would be jumping into a league where Alabama shows no signs of even stubbing its toe, LSU could win a national title any given year if not for Bama and the SEC East includes resurgent Florida, a strong Georgia program, the best South Carolina program in recent history and hey look Vanderbilt might be onto something. All that glitters is not gold. And there's a lot of glitter with Gruden to be sure.

Just remember - Will Muschamp hadn't been a head coach anywhere, either. Looks like he's turned out OK.

Savannah Sand Gnats remains a great name, if for no other reason than to honor the state bird of the Free State of Chatham (Savannah is an incredibly insular city and to its residents, there is no world beyond I-95 or the Savannah River). The Calgary Hitmen (minor league hockey team) also have a great name. So too do the Las Vegas 51s. But will anybody acknowledge the existence of their field? Hmmm....

Maybe they should call it the GoDaddytoyournextjob.com Bowl?

December 5, 2012 at 11:43 a.m.
jgreeson said...

Spy —

Fair reasoned points all. That said, Muschamp is the exception not the rule. Ellis Johnson hadn't been a head coach either and he turned Southern Miss into a trainwreck filled with dumpster fires and dirty diapers filled with Indian food.

Staffs recruits, head coaches close, and we feel UBER comfortable in the knowledge that Gruden and his Super Bowl ring and his cult of personality could close almost anyone. And don't under play enthusiasm and a full house for a spring game: Saban turned it in to the 2008 recruiting class which is the best ever.

In fact, the heated nature and cut-throat culture of the SEC is why Gruden would work. You need someone that can stand toe-to-toe with Saban and Richt and Muschamp and Spurrier, and no current college coach has anything on his resume that trumps those guys.

Gruden however shows up with his 2002 Super Bowl ring on and smiles.

Are there unknowns, certainly. There are with all new hires (well accept that assistant sports editor we hired back in Marietta that time, what was his name???), and Gruden definitely has question marks.

But his exclamation points are AWE-some in their awesomeness.

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.
jgreeson said...

COACHING UPDATES

Reports are swirling about Mike Gundy getting an offer and staying at Oklahoma State. That's been a power struggle from the start, and while Gundy would be a fine hire, he played Hart from the start.

Now will Strong listen to UT's call, will he re-up with Louisville. Ball seems to be in his court.

Remember last week when we tossed out Fulmer and Chavis and go get A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Klingsbury and make him the head coach-in-waiting? That seems a lot better right now, huh?

Somewhere do you think Bobby Petrino is sitting by his phone, and practicing the following routine:

"Yes this is Bobby, and I'd love to coach your football team."

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 12:03 p.m.
Blueoval said...

Pass the sausage gravy and give me some Montgomery Biscuits!

Jay, if the Strong hire falls through please get on the phone and tell Hart about your Fulmer/Klingsbury idea. I agree that is looking better and better. Especially better than a Petrino hire!

December 5, 2012 at 12:19 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

I see the point about Gruden's Super Bowl ring. But that was 10 years ago and he was ultimately dismissed by the Bucs. Plus, you might attribute that championship more to Monte Kiffin's defense than Gruden's stewardship (I said you might, not that you have to or even want to).

There's no question Gruden will bring a new level of excitement to the Vols football program. But he hasn't coached a meaningful game (the Hooters flag football team doesn't count. Unfortunately) in a few years. This isn't Joe Gibbs coming back and going "why did I get back into this?" Saban also wasn't that far removed from winning at LSU, either, when he left the bright lights and big city of Miami for the ... um ... I'm sure Tuscaloosa has something. Barbecue, maybe? Loose admission standards? (Good heavens, Forrest Gump got into school there. He may not be a smart man, but he knows what Roll Tide is. But I digress ... and I know it was fiction.)

Just how untouchable is Petrino? Would he inspire a program? Or would his track record and driving record alienate a fan base?

Would it behoove UT to take a run at Gary Patterson at TCU if they can't close a deal on Gruden? Just askin'. Don't cost nothin'.

December 5, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.
dawg747 said...

Ten Cup: When I heard the news about Malzahn I knew you were relieved. The dude can coach offense now if he can hire a good defensive coordinator. As for team names the former minor league baseball team in Albany , GA was the Polecats. People can say what they want about Mark Richt but the man WILL, WILL stand up for his team and his players. He can coach and recruit also. Did you see where the day after the SEC Championship he was in the home of one of his recruits in Bufurd, GA that afternoon?

December 5, 2012 at 12:34 p.m.
JonathanMCook said...

spy-

You took the thought right out of my head. I was going to just now bring up the Sand Gnats. In a past life, I was the morning board operator at one of the local stations in a past life and our director was hired from the Savannah NBC affiliate. Every morning he would drink our of one of those thick plastic mugs for coffee and it was for the Savannah Sand Gnats.

December 5, 2012 at 1:08 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

dawg,

I don't think Richt was the only head coach, win, lose or beatdown, from a conference championship game chillin at a recruit's home the next day.

JMC,

Sand Gnats games are a good time at Historic Grayson Stadium. But they did go up on their beer prices this year. Alas.

December 5, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.
patrickd said...

Im a life long Vol Fan, Tennessee HAS to go get Kirby Smart!! it would only make sense to me. good lawd how could you not go to kirby smart after what he has did with that defense down there at bama. he's been working with saban for a while now and knows how to win. good lawd wth has larry fefora done to really impress dave hart anyways..never won a national champonship and he came from southern miss b4 he went to n.c.. go hire i winner not another dooley b,c that is what the coach from n.c. will probally be like..jmo he aint done crap yet in his career..smart would be the smartest hire and i know that there r tenn fans out there that feel the same that i do if we cant get strong...just saying ya'll..i hope that man gets a winner and not the n.c. coach!!

December 5, 2012 at 1:26 p.m.
Livn4life said...

Okay, everyone in the SEC BUT UT gets their man! Does this mean Derek Dooley will be hired at Ark. State?(sorry must be the cold medicine). Great buckets of faded orange sweat, what is going on? We get UNGrudenized and all the wheels fall off. I really thought I had it with the strong word I saw in the dictionary the other day. It seems the Vols just can't get the wheelbarrow of money pushed to the top of Rocky Top. Just who is PILOTing this ship?

KUDOS to Phillip Fulmer: His is a well-deserved induction. While I had become weary of where we were in his latter days, I certainly did not affirm the way he was ousted. Congratulations on a VOL who gave his all as player and coach. Best wishes in the future even if we have to face him on the field.

JETS-You may not have heard that Rex Ryan has named Mark Sanchez as starter again. Is this the NY Jets or Bennie and the Jets? Rex stated he will have to take better care of the ball(understatement). Seems curious but they are paying the man big bucks to be the qb.

AUBUN-Gus M. feels like a great hire but we know there is a difference in being head coach at say ARK ST(Dooley could DOo that)and an SEC squad. He has the experience in the conference so I am believing it will end up being a good shoo on the Plains.

N.O. NBA-If you say the old nickname slowly there is a chance for some to be offended but let's not go there. I cannot see a Pelican peck its way to an NBA final but what do I know? I call for BillyJimBobTom Parker to become the next head coach of the Volunteers.

December 5, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Spy —

All valid points. Truthfully.

But Gruden would light the state on fire.

Dawg747 —

Yes, we're happy with Malzahn. May not be in three years, but right now, we're pleased. And we've always valued Richt.

JMC —

We're good with Sand Gnats too.

PDavi —

Just stop. Do not try to incite Johnny Vols Fans. They're in a tight spot.

— 5-at-10

December 5, 2012 at 1:45 p.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

Mario Cristobal fired? Wasn't it just last year that he was the hottest name on the block? Wasn't he like Malzahn last year? I love the Malzahn hire for Auburn, but Cristobal getting fired is stunning. Does FIU really think they can do better than him? My bet- he upset the AD when he flirted with other schools last year. When they had a bad year this year, the AD ran him off. Cristobal's heart probably wasn't in it this year the way it had been in the past.

December 5, 2012 at 2:04 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

Maybe FIU can get that Isiah Thompson guy to coach football too.

December 5, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Livn(Large)

Fair question. This coaching search stuff is SOOOOOO crazy... Auburn's had only the third most insane search. That's saying something.

Stuck —

Concur that Mario's fall from darling to deadbeat had as much to do with hurt feelings as bad play.

He'll make someone a big-time DC and recruiting ace. Bank that.

Spy —

You're hilarious.

COACHING UPDATE

Reports have Ellis Johnson interviewing with Auburn for the DC job.

A Malzahn hire followed by landing Ellis Johnson as the DC would be a nice couple of days for the Auburn Tigers.

December 5, 2012 at 2:31 p.m.
chas9 said...

Heading north on I-75 through South Georgia just now I saw a bold billboard proclaiming "EVER TO CONQUER" with a Supermanlike figure peeling back his shirt to reveal the AU on his barrel chest. There was an auburn.com email address. Unless the billboard went up since the GM hire, it must have taken a lot of chutzpah to put that up. Or deluded denial.

December 5, 2012 at 3:25 p.m.
biff_loman said...

will coach grider be teaming up with coach gruden at UT?

December 5, 2012 at 9:34 p.m.
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