5-at-10: College coaching search edition

5-at-10: College coaching search edition

November 28th, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Remember the Friday mailbag, which as we mentioned to Spy may well include a inquiry that may require the 5-at-10 to wear a bra on our head.

From the "Talks too much studios," it's go time...

ESPN NFL analyst and former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden is the favorite of many University of Tennessee fans to become the Volunteers' new coach.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Complete craziness

You are likely a college football fan. If you're not, then we suggest you either A) pick a team and get in the game or B) share what you're interested in so we can pretend to be interested or C) pick a team and get in the game.

And if you are a college football fan, you are either mired in the self-loathing, program-shaking, fan-base-splitting debacle that is a coaching search or have been part of it. (Well, everyone except Georgia, and for you nut bars out there that have wanted Mark Richt fired in the last three years, shame on you. Embrace and enjoy what you have.)

And like everything else in the college football realm and the battle for middle Earth that is the SEC arms race, the stakes are raised exponentially and the pressure is monstrous. The rumors take on lives of their own. The instant turn of information can cause whiplash.

And sweet buckets of loose lips sinking ships, either every athletic department looking for a coach has 85 percent of its employees telling everything they know to anyone who will listen - including the guy that details the Cadillacs in Knoxville to Bob Stoops' publicist outside of Chicago. Well, that or 90 percent of the stuff we see on the interwebs is chat room fodder that has been watered with hope, fertilized with desperation and loved with passion and grown to tall tales comparable to the Loch Ness Monster and has fostered baby rumors the size of a love child between Paul Bunyon and Sasquatch.

Now we have hit unchartered waters in the Sea of Unbelievable. Crash these waves:

- A Memphis TV station reported that Jim Haslam III has ponied up an ownership stake in the Cleveland Browns as part of the package to lure Jon Gruden to Knoxville. The questions about this are far greater than the fact the Memphis TV report misidentified Jim Haslam III (his father, Big Jim, was the founder of Pilot and the former UT letterman). The Browns issued a statement denying the rumor. Gruden completely denied this on Mike and Mike this morning on ESPN radio, and while coaches everywhere are denying reports (more on that below), Gruden was pretty clear when asked if it was true, saying, ""No there it isn't. No truth to that."

- But for hits and wiggles, we'll play along with this. Let's see: if Haslam III is so hot and heavy for Gruden, why not offer him the Browns job. Oh yeah that's right, because the No. 1 goal of spending more than $1 billion for an NFL franchise was to make UT better. Plus, Haslam III is going to get Nick Saban in Cleveland, right? (Side note: Forget the Browns, if the Haslam clan is offering up ownership stakes, here's our demand sheet: We want a piece of Pilot Oil first; we want Gov. Bill Haslam to secure us lifetime passes to Dollywood and to that boss water park in Gatlinburg; we want Mrs. Gruden to get to be a cheerleader again; we want front row center seats at the Opry; we want the words changed from "Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo," to "Pardon me Mr. Coach Gruden, sir, is that the Chattanooga Gru-Gru." And we want a hamburger, no a cheeseburger, we want a milkshake, we want a hot dog...)

- Southern Miss fired Ellis Johnson after one season. One. And, you know what, it was probably the right move.

- The website SportsbyBrooks first reported Arkansas offered LSU coach Les Miles a five-year, $27-million deal. Hello, Arkansas. We don't know whether to A) congratulate the Hogs on swinging for the fences; B) pity the Hogs for apparently not having any sort of real plan; or C) wish desperately for this to happen just on the off chance that Miles does Mad Hatter things at the Little Rock Wal-Mart. "These folks here at the South Little Rock Wal-Mart are a spectacular group of men. You go find them, you throw your arms around them and you give them a big kiss on the mouth... if you're a girl."

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Unanswered questions

Has anyone stopped to ask whether Jon Gruden is going to fit in college football?

Think about it. In the NFL, it's all football. In college, it's recruiting and glad-handing boosters and making stops in Cookeville and Murfreesboro to speak at events. In the NFL, the players know their livelihood is at stake with the outcome of their performance. In college, the players know the coaches' livelihood is at stake with the outcome of their performance.

Seriously, who was the last former NFL coach that had success in college? Yes, Pete Carroll won on a grand scale at USC. But they also had to give all of that back because of NCAA violations. Oh yeah, NCAA rules. That's another Grand-Canyon-sized difference between the college game and the NFL.

OK, so if Johnny Vols Fans everywhere are willing to push their chips in for a Pete Carroll-like return - couple of titles, couple of Heisman winners, couple of years of NCAA sanctions and scholarship reductions - we can accept that. Seriously, we can and we're pretty sure as an Auburn grad, we'd take that risk at Auburn too.

But that's the high end, the optimum. Look at the other former NFL coaches that tried to make jumps to high-profile college jobs.

Charlie Weis and Monte Kiffin were former ground-breaking NFL assistants and they are getting chewed up in college.

The jury is still out on Jim Mora and Bill O'Brien. What about Chan Gailey's forgettable time at Georgia Tech? And who can forget Lane Kiffin? Wait, strike that. We all want to forget Lane Kiffin.

Tthere's no doubt Gruden had more head coaching experience and success than those guys in the NFL. And he'd be a rock star hire in the eyes of recruits and a unifying hire for the UT fan base.

For those reasons alone, hiring Gruden would be a good hire. Heck those alone considering the state of the UT program could qualify it as a great hire.

But, if the contract details do work out and Gruden gets a rumored piece of the Browns and DirectTV, a percentage of every commercial Peyton Manning ever shoots and a sizable portion of the subscription fees collected by the 5-at-10, five years from now will it be just a home run hire or will it be Tennessee's solution. Because we all know they are not necessarily the same thing.

Lane Kiffin was a home run hire; he was not a solution.

Rich Rodriguez was a home run hire; he was not a solution.

Mark Richt was not a home run hire (heck, he wasn't even Georgia's first choice); he was the solution.

Sure, Saban was both, and that happens, but it's rare.

And this is not only germane to Gruden and UT, of course. It's the same question for every school about every candidate. And it's an expensive and painful proposition.

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Reading between the lines

Amid the rumors and the rumblings there is little fact and a monstrous appetite for information. Case in point: Yesterday afternoon, four of the top five clicked stories on the TFP website had to do with the UT opening. In fact, we'll bet that the productivity at BlueCross BlueShield right now is hovering near 65 percent because of the folks trolling the interwebs looking for coaching nuggets.

Heck, we're just as guilty (except, not unlike telling the family during the holidays that "We have to watch sports for work," we can actually saying scouring the interweb for coaching news is part of the job).

That said, you need a roadmap for traveling the rocky rumor roads of coaching searches.

First, every added "connection" cuts the chance of possibility in any story by 50 percent. For example, if someone said, they have a friend in the athletic department that told them that Gruden can shoot fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arm pits, then that's one connection and that story at best has only a 50 percent chance of possibly being true. If it's a friend of mine knows Gruden's hairdresser who said he has split ends and bad cowlicks, that's two connections, so that's 50 percent of 50 percent or a 25 percent chance of being possibily true. If someone says a guy they know plays golf with Dr. B (he's a doctor after all) who heard that from a pilot that overheard two UT boosters talking about a girl that showed the Gruden's property that Gruden likes to wear capes and play Pin the Tail on the Dooley, well, that would be (guy->Dr. B (he's a doctor after all)->Pilot->UT boosters->girl that showed property) five connections and give even the remote chance of 3.125 percent chance of being possible. So even if Gruden is a cape-wearing William Wallace with bad hair and a fondness for Pin the Tail on the Dooley (and we need to copyright that game ASAP; don't tell us you won't bring that to every White Elephant Christmas event you go to this year), the possibility of that depends on the number of connections.

Second, learn the playbook on the candidate coach speak. We love the non-denial, denial that has become standard operating procedure for coaches everywhere. And we respect them for it, too. Seriously. After the mitten-storm that consumed Nick Saban after he said time and time again that he was not leaving the Dolphins, we understand the need to address the question without addressing the question. Here are the top five non-denial, denials, and what they mean:

- "I have not spoken with anyone there." Translation: That's why I have an agent and why he gets 10 percent.

- "I'm very happy with the job I have." Translation: And I'm about to be happier, because every time you guys ask me about another opening it adds an extra year and another 8 percent to my contract.

- "This is the job I want." Translation: We explored that other opening, but we didn't feel the love.

- "This is the best job in the country." Translation: What do you want me to say? Of course I'd be interested in the other spot, but c'mon, you know and I know it's a long shot, so just let me share some praise.

- "I'm only focused on this team and what we have to do this week." Translation: After the season, I'm getting paid.

- "I guess I have to say it. I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." Translation: Nick Saban is going to Alabama.

- "They'll have to carry me out of here in a pine box." Translation: Tommy Tuberville is going to Auburn.

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This and that

- Indiana dropped the hammer on UNC last night and served notice to anyone that follows the ball that bounces true: Doubt the Hoosiers at your own peril. This bunch can play. This bunch appears motivated. And most importantly, this bunch appears to know their roles and has embraced them. That's fun to watch.

- Sonny Dykes is apparently the top target at N.C. State, and we think that would be a solid hire for the Wolfpack. Sadly for Dykes, he picked the wrong year to have a breakout season considering the two biggest jobs that are open are at Tennessee and Auburn. And Dykes will not get a sniff at either because: Tennessee can't hire another La Tech guy after the debacle that was Dooley; Auburn can't hire Dykes because his record-setting offense is coordinated by Tony Franklin. Yes, that Tony Franklin who was fired six games into his first season as Tommy Tuberville's OC in the disaster that was 2008 at Auburn.

- The ACC bigwigs are going to vote on admitting Louisville today, and that has to be a slam dunk, right? Good move for the ACC, which needed it. Plus, it adds more basketball power to an already basketball powerhouse league.

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Today's question

Feel free to dish on the coaching search process.

Who do you want?

Who do you not want?

What have you heard?

What have you heard that stretches the realm of believability?

As for our question to you, here we go:

This is mainly for Auburn and Tennessee fans, but feel free to chime in: Picture your dream coaching candidate. He's there ready to take the job. Then the Fairy Godcoach floats down (he has wings, a wand and looks a lot like Ashton Kutcher but he's pint-sized like Terry Bowden) and says, "OK, you get only one choice: Do you want Dream Coach X to come to your school or do you want Nick Saban to go to the NFL?"

What do you pick?