With the pursuit of Super Bowl-winning coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden now in the past, here's the five candidates to whom the Times Free Press believes Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart will turn his focus in his search for a new head football coach.
Current job: Florida State (sixth season at school, third as head coach)
What his team has done in 2012: The Seminoles won the ACC title and clinched a BCS bowl bid with a win Saturday night against Georgia Tech. Florida State's two losses came against two Tennessee opponents (North Carolina State and Florida).
What he makes this year: $2.75 million
Where he's been: Fisher had long stints in the SEC as Auburn's quarterbacks coach under Terry Bowden (1993-98) and as LSU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2000-06).
The good: The obvious connection between Fisher and Tennessee is Hart, who was in Tallahassee when Fisher became the Seminoles' offensive coordinator in 2007. He's developed a reputation as a good recruiter, though geography makes it much easier to recruit and stockpile talent at LSU and Florida State than at Tennessee. Given his SEC ties and the uncertain future of the ACC, Fisher might be interested in a move despite saying more than once last week that he was "very happy" at Florida State and focused solely on Saturday night's game. Mark Stoops, Fisher's defensive coordinator, took the Kentucky job last week and may bring some assistants with him.
The bad: Fisher also has been linked to the opening at Auburn, where he coached for six seasons in the 1990s. Florida State just broke ground on a new indoor practice facility and approved the lot space and construction of a new dorm building for freshman football players. With its fertile recruiting base, favorable conference and high profile, the Florida State job is a good one that Fisher just might not want to leave.
Current job: Louisville (third season)
What his team has done in 2012: Despite a blowout loss to Syracuse and an overtime loss to Connecticut, Louisville clinched a BCS bowl bid by winning at Rutgers on Thursday night with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater battling wrist and ankle injuries.
What he makes this year: $2.3 million
Where he's been: Strong made stops at Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina before developing his reputation at Florida, where he was the defensive coordinator under Ron Zook and Urban Meyer (2002-09).
The good: An Arkansas native who made three stops at Florida before his longest stint in Gainesville, Strong has ties in the South and understands the SEC. He's respected as both a recruiter and a defensive mind. Louisville was just 4-8 and won one Big East game the season before his arrival, and the Cardinals have gone 7-6, 7-6 and 10-2 under Strong, who reportedly interviewed for the Tennessee job Friday, less than 24 hours after Louisville's regular season ended.
The bad: Might Louisville's move to the ACC entice Strong to stay? If it doesn't, Louisville might be able to do that with money. Athletic direcctor Tom Jurich said in October he "will match anybody's salary" to keep Strong. He could be in play at Arkansas, his home state, or Auburn, though he angrily denied a report of an interview with the Tigers this week to Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports.
Current job: Miami (second season)
What his team has done in 2012: The Hurricanes were 7-5 this season, losing decisively to Kansas State and Notre Dame and closely to Virginia and North Carolina. Miami shared the ACC Coastal Division title, but the school imposed a postseason ban for the second consecutive season.
What he makes this year: Miami is a private university, so those numbers are undisclosed.
Where he's been: Golden made a name for himself in resurrecting a Temple program that was winless the year before his arrival and got kicked out of the Big East. Though the Owls were 1-11 in Golden's first season in 2006, they were 17-8 in his final two seasons in Philadelphia. He coached at Boston College and Penn State and was Virginia's defensive coordinator (2001-05) before taking the Temple job.
The good: Rumored to have interviewed with Tennessee in Florida on Thursday, Golden, known for sporting a tie on the sideline, has done admirably at Miami amid a pending NCAA investigation into some serious allegations involving boosters providing players with illegal benefits. With a young team this season, the Hurricanes were lined up to play Florida State for the ACC title until the school again imposed a postseason ban earlier this month. Miami was ninth in Rivals.com's recruiting rankings in 2011, and Golden's Northeast ties could open some recruiting avenues in those areas.
The bad: Golden's 40-45 overall record as a head coach might be hard to sell to Tennessee fans, who have seen similar records the last two hires in Knoxville. Also, he has not coached in the SEC, and his current recruiting class is just 55th in the nation. As have some of the Vols' other targets, Golden has issued some pretty strong words about his commitment to seeing Miami through its latest NCAA tempest.
Current job: North Carolina (first season)
What his team has done in 2012: In his inaugural season in Chapel Hill, Fedora's Tar Heels went 8-4 with three losses by a combined nine points. North Carolina would have played in the ACC title game if not for an NCAA-levied postseason for allegations under the previous regime.
What he makes this year: $2,448,605
Where he's been: Fedora was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State (1999-2001), Florida (2002-04) and Oklahoma State (2005-07) before becoming the head coach at Southern Miss. With the Golden Eagles, Fedora was 34-19 in four seasons and went 12-2 with a Conference USA title-game thrashing of unbeaten Houston in 2011.
The good: Fedora is a known offensive mind with ties to the Volunteer State and some SEC experience at Florida. The recruiting ties he's made in the past five years in Mississippi and North Carolina certainly could help Tennessee. The Tar Heels' current 2013 class is ranked 18th nationally according to 247Sports.
The bad: Would Fedora leave North Carolina after just one season? And it's hard to ignore the 68 points his team allowed to Georgia Tech just three weeks ago, given the Vols' own defensive woes this season.
Current job: Oklahoma State (eighth season)
What his team has done in 2012: The Cowboys finished a 7-5 season with a 41-34 loss at Baylor on Saturday, a week after losing in overtime on the road to rival Oklahoma.
What he makes this year: $3.275 million
Where he's been: Other than Stillwater, where he played and coached as an assistant in two stints, Gundy has worked only at Baylor as quarterbacks coach (1996) and Maryland as receivers coach (2001-04).
The good: Under Gundy, Oklahoma State is 66-34 over the past eight years. From 2008 to 2011, the Cowboys were 41-11; they played in the Fiesta Bowl a season ago. Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, two NFL first-round picks, the Cowboys were fifth and third nationally in yards and points, respectively.
The bad: It seems unlikely that Gundy would leave his alma mater, where he's coached for all but five years since 1990. Oklahoma State was just 67th in points allowed and 113th in passing yardage allowed this season entering Saturday. He has no SEC experience, and there's always mega-donor T. Boone Pickens and his deep pockets if he stays in Stillwater.
NOTE: The 2012 salaries are from USA Today's coaching salary database.