KNOXVILLE — Tennessee will not qualify for a bowl game based on its record, and if there is any hope of the Volunteers receiving or accepting a bowl invitation based on their Academic Progress Rate score, interim head coach Brady Hoke is not spending his time dwelling on it.
"That's a question for John," Hoke said Monday, referencing Tennessee athletic director John Currie. "We have not had that conversation. I think right now he is quite busy."
Not only is Currie busy, but his every move is under a spotlight.
The first-year athletic director is officially just over a week into Tennessee's football coaching search, and as Currie predicted last Sunday, the process has been filled with a flood of rumors and speculation about potential candidates for the job.
Hours before Currie fired Butch Jones on Nov. 12, he was greeted by a zealous reporter in a campus parking garage when he arrived at work. Since then the internet has hummed with rumors of Currie's whereabouts.facebook
The efforts by some to extract information from Currie or about his travels have moved on from lurking in parking garages to staking out McGhee-Tyson Airport to monitor flights.
"Naturally, there will be great interest and speculation across the college football world," Currie wrote in a letter to the fan base after Jones was fired. "As I reminded our student-athletes when I met with them earlier today, unless you hear news directly from me, do not assume it to be accurate."
The former Kansas State athletic director has sought input from current and former players and surely is willing to hear from the athletic department's high-profile boosters. But as he pledged at the beginning of the search, Currie has not spoken publicly about the search.
"One of the things that is most important for me to do is not add to misinformation, so I will not be making any comments or responses to specific candidates or specific rumors," he said on Nov. 12.
Much of the speculation to this point has centered on ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Jon Gruden, who was a graduate assistant at Tennessee in the 1980s.
The Times Free Press reported last week that multiple sources confirmed Gruden had reached out to current college assistants who have a history of either playing or coaching at Tennessee to gauge their interest in potentially joining a staff.
Gruden has not publicly removed his name from consideration for the job. If a deal is not reached between the two, it wouldn't be the first time that he and Tennessee have flirted without reaching an agreement.
Still, Gruden appears to be the candidate that many fans prefer.
A video that appears to have been taken during Tennessee's loss to LSU on Saturday shows a fan walking behind Currie in the Neyland Stadium concourse yelling repeatedly at Currie to hire Gruden.
Currie continued walking, unfazed by an encounter that seemed to be an apt representation of the coaching search to this point.
This is Currie's first time hiring a football coach as an athletic director, and he appears to be keeping his circle of confidants small, even amid the raucous outside clamoring for information.
The number of schools competing for the services of top coaches is rising and will only continue to rise in the coming weeks. Florida reportedly has been in talks with former Oregon and NFL coach Chip Kelly to replace fired Jim McElwain as the school's coach. UCLA fired coach Jim Mora on Sunday. Meanwhile, Oregon State is looking for a coach, and at least two other SEC schools could be a part of the coaching carousel.
Ole Miss could remove the interim head coach tag from Matt Luke or hire an outside candidate. The Arkansas job appears likely to come open after the firing of athletic director Jeff Long last week.
When former Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart hired Jones from Cincinnati in 2012, Arkansas and Auburn made their hires first. Jones was announced that Dec. 7 after Tennessee's pursuits of other candidates failed.
Jones draws interest
SB Nation reported Sunday that Jones has been contacted by Oregon State about that school's opening. Gary Andersen resigned in the middle of the season, and the Beavers are 1-10.
Andersen made $2.65 million annually, according to a USA TODAY database. Tennessee owes Jones $2.5 million through the 2020 season, but that amount is reduced by the amount of his next coaching salary. If Jones were to be hired at Oregon State for a salary comparable to what Andersen made, Tennessee's financial obligation to him would be erased.
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com.
This story was updated Nov. 20 at 11:59 p.m.