On Thursday, Volnation woke up too a harsh reality, that the once proud program that won a National Championship in 1998 and was a NFL pipeline for first round picks and pro bowlers has yet to fill its coaching vacancy. Although hiring ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was considered a long shot the fact other promising coaches like Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, Charlie Strong of Louisville, and Gary Patterson of TCU had passed on what many considered to be one of the premiere jobs in college football was both humbling and embarrassing.
Too make matter worst, the fact that less lucrative coaching vacancies have been filled makes the reality for Volnation that much tougher to swallow. Their SEC counterparts, Arkansas an Auburn excited their fans, their recruits with their coaching hires (Bret Bielema 3-time Big Ten Championship Coach to Arkansas & National Championship winning offensive mastermind Guz Malzhan returned to Auburn). Even annual Pac 12 cellar dweller Colorado has lured in promising coach Butch Jones who has continued the resurgence of the Cincinnati Bearcat football program (UPDATE Butch Jones declines Colorado offer).
With very few promising coaches available there appears to be very little lucrative options left for the Tennessee Volunteer programs to turn. Although their next coach won’t bring the buzz many had hoped at this point the longer the job goes unfilled the more the football program will sink in the public eye and in the views of potential recruits Athletic Director Dave Hart must act quickly in order to not only salvage the current recruiting class, but also potentially prompt star quarterback Tyler Bray and his stud receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to return to Rocky Top and not declare for the NFL Draft.
Not too long ago Knoxville was home to an elite football program that was always in contention for an SEC Championship and top 5 recruiting class. But the Vols tailspin toward mediocrity began when the former athletic director Hamilton failed to find the right hire to replace Hall-of-Fame Coach Phil Fulmer.
As the coaching search continues many more names will be rumored to be in the running like Butch Jones from Cincinnati, Al Golden from Miami, Gary Andersen from Utah State, or maybe LSU DC and former volunteer John Chavis. But if these candidates decline the Vols may find their search entering the uncharted territory of NCAA sanctioned coaches. Although former Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel has an impressive record his firing may still be too fresh for Volnation to overlook. Former UNC Coach Butch Davis would have also been a big splash hire but due to his NCAA academic scandal he may also make many college programs think twice.
19 days in and vultures are picking at their current recruiting class and stars contemplating declaring for the NFL draft; a lot is at stake! The former AD dropped the ball with the Dooley hire the Vols can not afford (9 mil in counting) for current AD Dave Hart to do the same the same mistake twice. A new coach will bring clarity and closure to a program in need of a fresh start and wanting to return to the glory years. This off-season continues to be a compelling one on Rocky Top. What happens next? Stay tuned.. I know I will – A. Denmark