I say "the wait" like 24 hours is a ridiculous amount of time. Technology has pushed everything to warp speed - if you're reading this with VolQuest open in another tab, madly hitting refresh every few minutes to see if anything's new...you're not alone.
But whether the wait is over in a couple days, or Texas decides to hold off on anything official until after other teams play what's known as a "bowl game", it's going to be a distraction for the Vols either way. Unless Justin Wilcox stands up after practice today and says he's not going to Texas, the Vols will have to deal with the possibility that he is.
Chris Low reports this morning much of what Brent Hubbs and others have also been saying ($) - the job belongs to Wilcox, if he wants it. Low mentions that if Texas wants Wilcox to move immediately it could kill the deal - if that's true, good for Wilcox and good for us. But otherwise, could there be any reason why he wouldn't want it?
Wilcox has been in Knoxville one season. He inherited a defensive coaching staff that includes one Lane Kiffin holdover, one guy Derek Dooley brought with him, and one former Vol. If you had to give him a grade for the year, it would be an incomplete - the Vols were so thin defensively that we haven't used a dime package all year, had a sack of potatoes at defensive tackle for most of the year until Malik Jackson was moved over from end, and were on the field all the time. The Vols are 93rd nationally in time of possession - a struggling offense in September and October was replaced with one that likes to score in one play in November.
And say what you will about the November schedule, but there were two good offenses in there - Kentucky is third in the SEC in total offense, and Ole Miss fifth. Against FBS opponents, the Vols gave up an average of 445 yards per game in September/October, and 332 in November.
All that was good for the 70th ranked defense in college football...but given all the adversity and all of his past at Boise State, you can see why we were optimistic for the future.
And you can see why Texas may be too.
The Longhorns didn't go 5-7 because of their defense, which finished 7th nationally in yards allowed and was only really burned by the best offense in college football at Oklahoma State. Florida didn't hesitate to go after Will Muschamp.
Muschamp's coach-in-waiting situation won't be on the table for Wilcox, who doesn't have the resume right now for such an offer. However, Wilcox can do math (we assume he learned it on the way home from Baton Rouge). Derek Dooley is 42. If he's successful, he could stay here for a very, very long time. Mack Brown will be 60 next year, and had already agreed to a coach-in-waiting when Muschamp was around.
Wilcox is a baby in this game, just 33 years old. If he went to Texas and was wildly successful for, say, five years? Depending on who the Longhorns hire as their offensive coordinator, Wilcox could talk himself into having a real shot at being the head coach at the University of Texas by the time he was 40. He's no threat to put pressure on Brown right away as a coach-in-waiting (something some say Brown never liked anyway), but young enough to grow into the role over time. I'm not at all saying that Justin Wilcox is going to be the next head coach at Texas...I'm just saying that if I was him, I could talk myself into the idea.
I could also talk myself into a raise, though he'll get one from Tennessee if he stays. Muschamp made three times as much as Wilcox did last season, and while I'm not sure they would give him the same offer, the offer he got would be a pretty good one.
At Texas, he'd be working with better athletes against lesser competition. While he won't have to deal with the depth issues he faced this year whether he stays or goes, his chances for consistent success are better in Austin than anywhere in the SEC. And if the Longhorns allow him to hire some of his own staff?
I think it's going to be really hard for him to say no to this.
Dooley will give him some good reasons, financial and otherwise. He's got a good chance to be successful here too...but I'm just not sure he's been around Dooley or Knoxville long enough to choose the reality of Tennessee over the promise of Texas.
I hope he stays, because I think he can do great things with more players and more time. I also hope he stays because his departure would make this the fourth straight offseason (and fifth in six years) with a head coach and/or coordinator change 'round these parts, and while we appreciate having something significant to talk about in the summer, I'm getting tired of having to use "Well, it's his first year" when things don't go as well as we want them to. Much better for Wilcox to stay and everyone get more experience in his system than to have to start over with someone and something (3-4, anyone?) else.
But if we have to start over...here's where we may look:
- Lance Thompson, Tennessee LB Coach - I'm putting Thompson first because here's already here, not because he's the most likely choice, but wouldn't he be an option? Thompson served as defensive coordinator at Central Florida from 2004-06, and has done a great job with Vol linebackers over the past two years (remember all the injuries there in 2009?), and is a former National Recruiter of the Year. Even if he's just the safety net for Dooley, he's a nice option to have.
- Kevin Steele, Clemson Defensive Coordinator - Dooley's primary target for this job last year, Steele went back and forth before electing to stay at Clemson, thanks to a players meeting and a nice raise. While the Tigers struggled again this year, Steele's unit finished 23rd nationally in total defense and 9th in scoring defense. I don't know if Dooley is the sort of guy who will ask Steele to dance again, but Steele - who both played and coached for the Vols under Johnny Majors - might find greater job security with Dooley than Dabo Swinney.
- John Chavis, LSU Defensive Coordinator - Because enough UT fans are going to put his name out there, whether Dooley or Chavis actually has any interest in this idea at all. Chief's boys at LSU were 8th in total defense and tied Clemson for 9th in scoring defense (and before you say anything, they were 20th in third down conversions allowed). Two full seasons removed from the bitterness of Fulmer's departure for both Chavis and the Tennessee program, I'm not sure if Chief would even entertain the idea, or how well he gets along with The Hat...but I do know that he did an excellent job here, looks better every year he's been away, and I for one would welcome him back. Not saying he should be our primary target, but I would definitely be on board.
- Sal Sunseri, Alabama LB Coach - Worth mentioning because he's been a popular name to replace Kirby Smart were he to leave Nick Saban's staff. Sunseri has never been an FBS defensive coordinator, and spent much of the previous decade as the defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers. But if you're considering him, don't you just offer the job to Lance Thompson?
- Randy Shannon, ex-Miami Head Coach - Probably the name at the top of the fan wish list. Interestingly, Shannon has spent his entire career in Miami, with either the Dolphins or the Hurricanes. He's only 44, and you'd have to think that if you hired him and he was successful, he'd be looking to move back as a head coach sometime soon. Obviously, if your assistants are being offered promotions it means they're doing something right, and you want that...just not sure if Dooley would want to go that route and hire someone who probably wouldn't stay here long. If he were to come here though, we'd be instantly expanding our recruiting base into the "State of Miami".
- Dave Wannstedt, ex-Pittsburgh Head Coach - The boys at 3SIB mentioned him as an option, and I'm including him here because he might be worth it for the jokes and t-shirt sales alone.
We didn't see Wilcox coming last year, and like any good coach I'm sure Dooley has his list and is checking it twice. I like Wilcox and I think this program needs as much stability as it can get right now. But if he leaves, I'll understand...and I'll trust Dooley to go get a winner.