How Good Is the Tennessee Head Coaching Job, Anyway?

Jared Wickerham

Since apparently we have some time to figure this out, let's take a look at some of the other coaching jobs in the nation to see where Tennessee stacks up.

I hate inexact science. Yeah, contain your shock. It's frustrating to have some idea that Tennessee is a good job - heck, I've said as much - but I'm not sure that we've actually sat down and done the inexact math to figure out how good the Tennessee head coaching job actually is. (At this point, I need to thank I_S for a conversation I had offline with him and this discussion for helping indirectly nail down a few things - I'm not sure my conclusion will totally come in line with that, but I also don't like to skip to the end when I can show my work. Once an engineer, always an engineer.)

In order to figure out how good the Tennessee head coaching job is relative to every other FBS head coaching job - let's skip ahead and just eliminate the NFL and FCS and below here, for various reasons that roughly boil down to the demands of those jobs are different or the scale is different enough to not be directly relevant - we need to figure out what factors into making a coaching job desirable. The way I figure it, we can roughly break it down into six categories, in approximate order of importance:

  • Recruiting. Kids are king; if you can walk into a big recruiting network or a very lucrative recruiting state (think Florida, Texas, California, Ohio to a lesser extent), you're in good shape to start with. Wyoming, on the other hand, has a tougher road to travel to get the high-quality kids you need to succeed. (This is no small part of why Boise State is fascinating to me; there ain't nothing for recruiting up there.)
  • Money and Boosters: well, duh. Ask Oklahoma State and Oregon what you can do with money. The nice part about with money is that it buys you....
  • Facilities: That in turn makes it easier to get recruits, which opens up more money and gets you the next thing on the list. And yes, everyone wants bigger and better facilities, but there are some places with bigger and better facilities right now.
  • Prestige: Someone always wants to wake up the echoes or be the guy who overshadows The Head Coach or creates The Next Dynasty. You know the guy, the kind of person that parents name their kids after and everyone tries to emulate even though they've well passed that mortal coil.
  • Fanbase: It'd be wrong of me to fail to note that 104,000 fans make a heck of a lot better sight than 9,000 in a half-full Glass Bowl. It does cut both ways, though; there are a few fanbases that would make me uncomfortable to coach, none of which I will name here because I value my personal life.
  • Competition: Probably the vaguest of the lot and tied in with prestige and fanbase a bit, but think UM/OSU or the only thing going for the Army job these days. This can also tie in to things like conference affiliation and the like.
Okay, so that's out of the way. It's tough to figure out actual, set in stone rankings for each of these things by school, but we're lucky since we're only trying to figure out Tennessee and not every single school. As a result, we care about a couple of things: what schools are above our range (right now), what schools are below our range (right now), and what schools are in our range. This is also where I'd like to remind everyone that these things are fluid and can / will change over time. Let's take these groups in order.
  • Schools out of Tennessee's Range: These openings beat Tennessee in most of the categories above, and again, I'm not too worried about order. Right now, I'd put Florida, Alabama, LSU, USC, Texas, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in that category. There's too much of an advantage in too many categories (Texas in particular should be way better than they are right now) for Tennessee to be a realistic competitor if those positions are open. And yes, you can extrapolate from this why I'm confused about the Jimbo Fisher rumors and why I'm not that surprised Lane Kiffin bolted when he did.
  • Schools Below Tennessee's Range: This group is a bit sketchier for various reasons (and more numerous than the other groups, of course), but I'd probably put places like Nebraska, South Carolina, Clemson, Arkansas, TCU, Wisconsin, and - yes- Washington below us. Those are for various reasons (Nebraska and Arkansas have recruiting issues, South Carolina and Clemson might not have quite the same funding, although they do better with the recency scale, and I have no idea why Bielema went laterally at best), and I'd be happy to figure it out beyond that, but that's the best stab I have for now.
  • Schools in Tennessee's Range: Ah, now we're talking. Here's the list I have: Florida State, Michigan, Georgia, Penn State, UCLA, Texas A&M, Auburn. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon. Again, this is just the general group.
Let's whittle this down a bit using my favorite thing in this post, the bullet-pointed list.
  • Florida State: above Tennessee. The recruiting base is there for sure, as is in the fanbase. I'm guessing the money is there and the facilities are there - I'd be surprised if they're not, although I don't know for sure. I'd be hard pressed to put Tennessee above them.
  • Michigan: close to Tennessee. It's a pretty similar case; they're the lead dog in a moderately talent-rich state, have a big fanbase, big stadium, good facilities, great rivalry (and annoying little brother playing above their heads - and you thought I could do this piece without taking a free run at James Franklin), and enough money to normally do what they want.
  • Georgia: probably above Tennessee. Might just be a temporary thing, but recruiting isn't too hard - probably easier than Tennessee, since Georgia is a big producer of football talent and they're closer to Florida - and the rest of their measureables grade out well. Good length, nice upside, good jumpability.
  • Penn State: probably close to Tennessee. Weird case here; they probably should be above Tennessee (flagship university in a big state that's football-mad) but thanks to sanctions, they take a bit of a ding. I think - right now - I'd put the Tennessee job above Penn State, but ask me tomorrow and I may have a different answer.
  • UCLA: probably below Tennessee. Again, weird case. Second fiddle in their own town, but that can change in a hurry and it's not like you'll do badly getting the second run of South California prospects. Money is there, facilities are largely a question mark to me, prestige is finally trending up a bit, but I think they need a bit more to clear Tennessee right now.
  • Texas A&M: probably ever-so-slightly above Tennessee. See UCLA, except replace town with state and Pac-12 with SEC and add in a win over Alabama and a Heisman frontrunner (and likely winner), which will help. Fanbase is possibly insane, but good insane at least as far as head coaches are concerned. Downside: employed Mike Sherman.
  • Auburn: close to Tennessee. The NCAA will do that to you, as does playing second fiddle to Alabama. Did well with the Gus Malzahn hire - probably close to the best guy they could've gotten in terms of raw talent, although on some level seeing Bobby Petrino surface here would be perfect. Tough to argue they don't have money.
  • Oklahoma: above Tennessee. Honestly, they're only there because it's not quite an elite opening right now. Still pretty good, though, and up there with FSU at the top of this group. (Incidentally, Bob Stoops isn't coming to Tennessee for this reason.)
  • Oklahoma State: below Tennessee. And this is what happens when you grade out well on money and facilities but that's about it.
  • Oregon: probably above Tennessee. Money plus facilities plus recruits plus recent success plus money plus a weird but fun fanbase plus Nike equals probably ahead of Tennessee for now.
Okay, so based on that group and the better-than-Tennessee-for-sure group here the list of places I have that are better than Tennessee: Florida, Alabama, LSU, USC, Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida State, and Oklahoma. That's 9 teams. Beyond that, I can probably put Oregon and Georgia above Tennessee for now (so 11 teams) and Oklahoma State and UCLA below Tennessee. That leaves the following teams: Texas A&M, Michigan, Tennessee, Penn State, Auburn. So, regardless of where things shake out, that would put Tennessee in the 12-16 range for head coaching openings.

That ain't shabby, right?
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