Tennessee becomes the third Power Five school to enter the market for a head coach. Oregon State and SEC East rival Florida are the others that are already looking for new head coaches. Here are some candidates that Tennessee could consider for the job. For context, Butch Jones made $4.1 million annually.
*Most salary figures are from the USA TODAY college football coaches salary database.
Jon Gruden (former Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach): Gruden's last college gig was as the tight ends coach at Pacific in 1989 after he broke into coaching as a graduate assistant at Tennessee in 1986. Gruden's last year as a coach of any sort was with the Bucs in 2008. He reportedly makes $6.5 million as ESPN's Monday Night Football analyst, and it's hard to fathom that a Super Bowl winning coach with a cushy gig would desire to be a college head coach. But his family ties and personal history with the school, ESPN's financial troubles and the past flirting between Gruden and Tennessee ensure there will be plenty of Grumors during this coaching search.
Dan Mullen (Mississippi State head coach): Mullen is in the process of leading Mississippi State to an eighth consecutive bowl game while earning $4.5 million annually. He's done a great job building a legacy at a historically difficult job. Tennessee could probably afford to offer Mullen a raise, but the job would come with higher expectations than those that exist in Starkville. There will probably be a statue of Mullen built on Mississippi State's campus soon for averaging 7.6 wins per year. If he averages 7.6 wins per year in Knoxville, they will run him out of town in four years. But perhaps he would be attracted to Tennessee's facilities and resources, which are better than those at Mississippi State. Watch out for Florida with Mullen. Former Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin is now the athletic director at Florida.
Matt Campbell (Iowa State head coach): The darling of this year's coaching carousel has led a historically low-achieving program to victories over national powers Oklahoma and TCU. The Cyclones have also narrowly missed on victories over ranked foes Oklahoma State and Iowa in year two of the Campbell era. The team hadn't finished with a winning record since 2009. That will change this year. Campbell was 35-15 in five years at Toledo before his quick turnaround of Iowa State began last year. Campbell makes $2.1 million at Iowa State with another $1 million in potential bonsues. His $9.6 million buyout is a hefty price to pay for potential suitors.
Mike Norvell (Memphis head coach): Norvell's Arkansas roots make him a great candidate for that job, should Bret Bielema be fired. His offensive pedigree also make him a likely target for a Florida program seeking to reclaim the glories of the Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer eras. Tennessee would be wise to make a run at Norvell, too. Memphis is in the best of arguably its best season in program history during Norvell's second year at the helm. With star quarterback Riley Ferguson graduating, this might be a good time for Norvell to listen to a sales pitch from a Power Five program. He makes $1.87 million at Memphis with room for another $570,000 in bonuses.relatedarticlethumb
Scott Frost (Central Florida head coach): Frost was Nebraska's quarterback when the Cornhuskers beat Tennessee in the Orange Bowl after the 1997 season. Now he has Central Florida 9-0 in the second season of his first head coaching job. Frost is a candidate for the Florida position and will assuredly be courted by Nebraska, should that program decide to part ways with Mike Riley in the midst of a tough season. The Nebraska and Florida jobs seem like more natural fits for Frost. He makes $2 million at UCF.
Bobby Petrino (Louisville head coach): With the Louisville athletic department embroiled in chaos and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson likely headed to the NFL Draft, Petrino may be interested in finding another job. His Arkansas tenure came to a scandalous ending and Petrino is not known to be particularly loyal, but he's never run afoul with the NCAA. And he has won in the SEC before. Offering a raise from his current $3.9 million salary is doable for Tennessee.
Les Miles (former LSU coach): Miles is reportedly interested in the Oregon State job. That is probably a better fit for the enigmatic former Oklahoma State and LSU coach. But the Vols could do worse. He won 10 or more games seven times in 11 full seasons at LSU, including a national championship in 2007. At 64, Miles' window is closing, and John Currie may be more inclined to consider a younger coach.
Tee Martin (Southern California offensive coordinator): The quarterback who led the Vols to the 1998 national championship has made a name for himself by rising to the position of offensive coordinator for an explosive USC offense led by star quarterback Sam Darnold. The downside to Martin is that he has never been a head coach. Tennessee is a tough first job. Martin, who has a street named after him on campus, may not want to risk failure at his alma mater.
Chad Morris (Southern Methodist head coach): A spawn of the Dabo Swinney coaching tree, Morris has turned SMU around. The Mustangs were 1-11 in 2014 the year before Morris arrived. Now, they're in position to qualify for a bowl game. Morris was the offensive coordinator at Clemson under Swinney from 2011 to 2014. He makes $2.1 million at Southern Methodist.
Charlie Strong (South Florida head coach): Tennessee made a run at Strong before it hired Jones after the 2012 season. He opted to stay at Louisville before taking the Texas job. Things didn't work out at Texas, but Strong is 8-1 in his first year at South Florida. He makes $1 million at South Florida with room for another $815,000 in bonuses.
Jimbo Fisher (Florida State head coach): The 52-year-old Fisher is in the midst of his most challenging of eight mostly successful seasons at Florida State. He won the 2013 national championship. But with the Seminoles at 3-6 this season, perhaps Fisher is ready for a new challenge. The catch with Fisher is his obscene $39 million buyout.
Gary Patterson (Texas Christian head coach): Tennessee has courted Patterson in the past, but the 57-year-old is entrenched at TCU. It's his 17th year there, and he's had opportunities to leave before. This is what he recently told ESPN: "It would have to be something you just couldn't say no to, but here's the thing with me: I never say never, because I always get pissed off at those coaches when they say, 'This is my last stop,' or they sign a new contract and change jobs the next year," Patterson said. "For me, it's not only TCU, but Fort Worth is a special place."
Frank Wilson (Texas-San Antonio head coach): Wilson gained a reputation as one of the nation's best recruiters while working for Miles at LSU from 2010 to 2015. That followed a stint at Tennessee in 2009 as Lane Kiffin's wide receivers coach. Wilson led UTSA to its first-ever bowl game last season. He makes $1.1 million at UTSA.
Dave Clawson (Wake Forest head coach): Wouldn't this be ironic? Clawson was a first-year offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008 when Phillip Fulmer was fired. Tennessee's offense was bad that year, but Clawson has turned out to be a pretty good coach. He is about to lead Wake Forest, which is Currie's alma mater, to a second straight bowl game. He makes $1.8 million at Wake Forest
Dave Doeren (North Carolina State head coach): He was 23-4 in two seasons at Northern Illinois and has done a nice job at N.C. State since taking over there in 2013. But he's yet to win a division title. He makes $2.2 million at North Carolina State.
Willie Taggart (Oregon head coach): Taggart parlayed an 11-2 season at South Florida in 2016 into landing the Oregon job. Things have been rough for the Ducks this year, however. With Oregon at 5-5, perhaps Taggart would be interested in returning to the southeast. He makes $2.9 million at Oregon.
Fun to talk about but not happening:
Lane Kiffin (Florida Atlantic head coach): Maybe most UT fans have forgiven Kiffin for his late night departure from Knoxville after a year of coaching the Vols. But it's hard to believe that the influential decision makers in and around the athletic department would be willing to give him another chance. Kiffin will coach a Power Five school again. It just won't be Tennessee. He makes $950,000 at Florida Atlantic.
Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech head coach): Fuente's name has already been tossed around by bloggers and prognosticators as a possibility for the Tennessee job. He could probably leverage the Tennessee opening for a raise, but it would be a confounding, lateral move for Fuente to leave a good thing in Blacksburg for the pressure of Knoxville. He makes $3.25 million at Virginia Tech.
Chip Kelly (former Oregon head coach): People forget that Oregon received three years of probation and that Kelly received an 18-month show-cause penalty from the NCAA for rules violations as Kelly departed for the NFL following the 2012 season. Think Currie and chancellor Beverley Davenport want to sign off on a coach with that history as they make their first major coaching hire? No, think again.
Bob Stoops (former Oklahoma coach): Stoops, 57, retired unexpectedly before this season after 18 years leading Oklahoma. He amassed a 190-48 record and won a national championship. Stoops has made it clear that he does not want to coach again.
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org