OK, we're still holed up, waiting for closure to the strangest coaching search in recent memory. We've re-stocked on staples and canned goods — we had to switch from the hot sauce and vienna sausages, which can have sour effects on a stomach if taken in mass; think Blazing Saddles and Mr. Taggart — and are ready for the next round of the coaching craziness.
Remember Friday's mailbag and from the "Talks too much" studio that has moved inside the coach search command center, let's be Strong today...
What now Johnny Vols Fans?
OK, on a day when the lure of the UT job and coaching on a prime-time stage in the nation's best conference, wasn't enough to lure a successful football coach from a basketball school, what are we to think?
Is this job too tough?
Is the climb too steep?
Is all the singing and dancing and hair-pulling and refresh-button hitting a giant smokescreen?
Is there a Santa Clause?
Well, as UT coach search hits Day 18 — and sweet buckets of used calendars and daytimers, this search feels like it's happening in dog years and has lasted seven times that long — let's explore those questions:
Is this job too tough? Lord no. This job offers the chance to be a legend. The coach that turns the Orange fortune — and this tide will turn if for no other reason than UT football is too big to fail over the long term — will be just this side of Gen. Neyland in UT football lore. The resources are too great, and anyone who thinks this job is too tough is someone we don't want any way. And sweet buckets can we all agree to avoid the, "Well, he inherited a mess" mumbo-jumbo that sadly became the battle cry for the Dooley regime. Did Dooley inherit a mess? Sure, he did, but that became the focal point of his stature and tenure. We all recognize UT has stunk the last five years, but those are the exceptions not the expectations of Tennessee football. Is it a mess? Yes, but let's acknowledge that and rather than focus on that and let's focus on fixing it. And it starts with finding a stud duck.
Is the climb too steep? It's pretty steep: Tennessee's current struggles x current awesomeness of the SEC + win-from-Day-1 mentality = TALL ORDER. It's steep enough that the over-the-top coin UT is offering and the cold feet of some candidates can be understood. But, again, those coaches that think this is too tough are doing UT a favor by pulling their name off the list.
Is all the singing and dancing and hair-pulling and refresh-button hitting a giant smokescreen? We believe there was some early smokescreen moves in the process. We also believe there is more game-playing in this search than we can ever remember. Be it the school, the coaches using the job to get raises or other demands, leaked and spun information to selected media outlets, agents doing the Discount Double Sexton (a move perfected by coaching-agent extreme Jimmy Sexton, in which someone floats one of his coach's names for a job, he makes moves, and somehow everyone gets a bump in pay and an extra year on the deal; more times than not, one of Sexton's other clients usually lands the opening, too). There's been a ton of shadow dancing.
Is there a Santa Clause? You bet there is. Our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer tells us here and our in-houe Speilberg, TFP videographer Patrick Smith, shows us here that there really is a Santa and he sent his Orange-clad rep to Hamilton Place on Wednesday. This will not be debated — remember, we're a family-oriented, interweb-based sports column — and while the entire football season has felt like a Christmas blevid with 10 pounds of coal in a five-pound bag, it's Christmas time and no one is saying anything bad about Santa. At least not on our watch.
The 5-at-10 has followed this as closely as any coaching search in recent memory. Sure it's a huge part of our day job as the TFP Sports Editor, but the theatrics and behind-the-scenes work on this have turned it into part coaching search, part Roman tragedy, part black comedy.
The missteps of this entire process have been well-chronicled and for a guy that has done a slew of good things in his short time as the UT AD, it's implausible how poorly this has played out with Dave Hart driving this bus. Could it be part of the process, as some of the outlets that have received leaks from inside UT athletic department have alleged? Maybe. Is it a complete dumpster fire as Clay Travis calls it here? Possibly.
The truth, as in most instances, lives in the middle, with the over-rated filling of an Oreo. (Seriously, why did the cookies always get such a bum rap in the Oreo breakdown. It's not like it was filling = Jordan and cookie = Pippen; it was more filling = Karl Malone and cookie = John Stockton. Plus, they actually sell those cookies by themselves; you can't go buy "filling" in the snack machine. Where were we?)
There have been missteps — there was no way Mike Gundy was leaving Oklahoma State and Hart got played. There also have been some unfortunate bad breaks — Jimbo Fisher was never as interested as we thought he may have been — that hit the all-time crescendo Wednesday night when Charlie Strong said, "Thanks but no thanks" to UT's reported $4 million offer.
So without Strong in the mix — behind Gruden, we have said from the beginning that Strong would be the best possible hire on a lot of levels for Hart and the Vols — who's left for what was the best job out there that also looks to be the last one to be filled. Here's an updated list with what we think about each as a coach and a possible fit at UT:
Jon Gruden: A grand slam hire in terms of public approval — The Bring Jon Gruden to Tennessee Facebook page has almost 15,000 likes for crying out loud — and we believe a huge hit with recruits. If they can make this happen, it will make the monkey romancing a football that has been the public perception of this process to date all seem like business as usual.
Larry Fedora: We think "The Hat" is a good football coach and a great name for a gangster in "Good Fellas II: When Harry caps Sallie" and we also believe hiring Fedora now will be met with a collective "Huh?" from Johnny Vols Fans everywhere.
Bobby Petrino and Bobby Petrino's Baggage (they are a package deal — wait, scratch that — wait, did we just say scratch the package joke about Bobby Petrino... Oh Brother): We believe Bobby Petrino is going to win games where ever he lands. He's a football savant that is arguably the best play-caller alive. Seriously. We also believe that he'll leave where ever he lands worse off than he found it. He's done both of those things at almost every stop — winning and leaving a wake of destruction. Plus, if an AD with a football opening said at the beginning of the search, "You know what, forget it, we're going to go after Bobby Petrino and Bobby Petrino's Baggage and we're going to win right now," then we could see that. Wouldn't necessarily agree with it, but we could see that. Heck, we almost had talked ourselves into Petrino being the guy at Auburn. But for the Vols to hire him now would be paramount of the two drunkest people at the bar hooking up at 3 a.m. Yes, it could work, but the odds are long. And scary when you turn the lights on in the morning.
The 5-at-10 Throwback Plan: We threw this out there last week, but now it's looking better and better. Like Boof in "Teen Wolf" the more you see other disappointments and the more you see Boof's attributes, the better it looks. Hire Phil Fulmer. Heck, how many other Hall of Famers are on the market. He'll bring John Chavis home. Here's the cherry on top: Make part of the deal, that Kliff Klingsbury is the OC and the head-coach-in-waiting to get the job no later than the 2016 season. This plan unifies the fan base that was splintered when Fulmer was run in 2008. It gives Fulmer a final swing to fix the university he loves and leave on better terms. And it's a plan for the future. War Boof.
Around the coaching sphere
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)
We're running late, so let's get to a slew of stuff:
- Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. If the Badgers top Stanford, expect to hear a lot of "Come home Barry" clamor, not unlike the Bill Snyder return to Kansas State stuff.
- Cal hired Sonny Dykes and his high-scoring La. Tech offense to replace Jeff Tedford. We said it last week, but Dykes picked the wrong year to have a breakout season, since UT and Auburn were the two biggest jobs on the market. There was no way UT could go back to the La. Tech well after the debacle that was Derek Dooley, who was at La. Tech before Dykes. And there was no way Auburn could go after Dykes, who has a record-setting offense under the guidance of Tony Franklin, who lasted half a season in his time as Tommy Tuberville's OC at Auburn in 2008. We think Cal made a good hire here.
- Lost in the ups and downs of the Gus Malzahn fired the entire Auburn staff Wednesday. He cleared the deck and said he was going to hire the coordinators first. it appears there will be a chance for some of those guys to re-apply or remain, but the coordinators will be hired and then go from there. Any questions about who's driving the Gus Bus?
- Joker Phillips was hired as a receivers coach by Will Muschamp at Florida. That's a BOOM hire.
This and that
— Congrats to Vic Grider, the former South Pittsburg High School coach who resigned after a record-setting run with the Pirates. As all-around ace Stephen Hargis tells us here, Grider had set this season as the one to end his super-successful career two years ago.
— Kobe Bryant passed the 30,000-point plateau, becoming the youngest to do it. Is Kobe a first-team All-NBA all-timer? Magic, Jordan, Kobe or Bird at small forward, Duncan, Jabbar or Russell is pretty tough. And if that's what you have, that's potentially three guys that spent most of their time with the Lakers. Wow.
— We talked earlier this week about Ozzie Smith getting more than half a million bucks for selling his memorabilia. Well, Don Larsen's jersey from his perfect game in the World Series in 1956 drew $750K. Bobby Knight also auctioned off a ton of stuff, including his 1976 NCAA title ring from the last unbeaten team in college hoops for more than $200K.
— Derek Jeter says he'll be ready for Opening Day. Derek Jeter is so money, even Spy — a lifelong Red Sox fan — has to respect him. He doesn't have to like him, but he knows deep down in places he doesn't talk about at parties, he wants Jeter on that field. He needs Jeter on that field.
Here's your chance Johnny Vols Fans. Whatcha got?
OK, what's the best way to describe the Tennessee coaching search?
Who do you want now?
Use this as a venting session or a release or an idea forum for the future. We're here to help.
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 ...