Tennessee has lone SEC vacancy left

Tennessee has lone SEC vacancy left

December 5th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Shortly after two of the Southeastern Conference's last three football head coaching vacancies were filled Tuesday afternoon, the rumblings grew louder that the final opening soon would follow suit.

Yet the day ended with Tennessee's search for Derek Dooley's successor unresolved.

In the wake of Arkansas hiring Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Auburn tabbing Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn, most of the noise pointed to the Volunteers selecting Louisville's Charlie Strong. Most notable was an ESPN report that cited sources who said Strong was the "front-runner" for the Vols.

It does not appear, however, that anything is official with the Cardinals' third-year coach, though a few former Tennessee players expressed excitement Tuesday about the possibility via Twitter.

The 52-year-old former South Carolina and Florida defensive coordinator met with Tennessee officials late last week after Louisville clinched a Sugar Bowl bid with a win at Rutgers. At his Monday news conference, Strong said he would not discuss "rumors" about being linked to other openings. Yet he talked about the rumors and called out Louisville's fan base for what he perceived to be a lack of numbers and passion.

Perhaps what was most telling, though, was Strong's response when asked if he wanted to squelch the rumors by saying he'd be at Louisville next season.

"I will say that at the right time," he said.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said in October he "will match anybody's salary" in trying to keep Strong, who signed an extension with Louisville a year ago. Strong's 2012 salary is $2.3 million, and his new contract includes a buyout of $2.2 million if he leaves. After winning four games the season prior to Strong's arrival, Louisville is 24-14 under the Arkansas native.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart, as he said he would more than two weeks ago at his news conference, spent Tuesday in New York City, where former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer was inducted into college football's Hall of Fame during Tuesday night's National Football Foundation annual awards dinner.

There were mixed reports regarding the other two supposed top candidates for the Vols' opening.

Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, who reportedly met with Tennessee officials Sunday, was reported by multiple outlets as the new hire at Arkansas before other reports surfaced that Bielema was the Razorbacks' choice.

One report in Knoxville said Tennessee officials met Tuesday morning with North Carolina's Larry Fedora in New York City, but the Charlotte News and Observer report reported that a source close to the Tar Heels' program said there had been "no contact" between the two programs.

UCLA's Jim Mora told the Los Angeles Times he was "committed" to the Bruins and had not spoken to anyone from Tennessee or Auburn, and Baylor's Art Briles signed a contract extension after Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas expressed interest, according to 247Sports.

One source told the Times Free Press on Sunday that Tennessee would like to have a coach hired within "four to five days."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.