We've spent plenty of time debating the various head coaching candidates and why each one would (or wouldn't) be good for UT, but let's consider the other side of the equation: why UT would be good for the coach. Here, I'll discuss the most talked-about candidate and why UT would be a good move for him.
If you're interested in the argument why Leach would be good for UT, check out Joel's post on the subject: THE CASE FOR MIKE LEACH AS TENNESSEE VOLUNTEER HEAD COACH.
BUY LOW, SELL HIGH
Mike Leach is riding a tremendous wave of success this season. Despite the blowout loss against Oklahoma in Norman, the Red Raiders are unquestionably having one of the greatest years in their team's history. This year isn't a fluke, either; Leach has been shredding defenses with his offense with tremendous regularity as a head coach, and as a coordinator at Oklahoma and Kentucky. Each year, Texas Tech seems to get just a little stronger and a little more rounded out. This year, with the addition of a decent running game and an improved defense, Texas Tech is the nightmare matchup for any team.
Just ask Bob Stoops how relieved he was to win, much less win big.
At 10-1 (and most likely 11-1 by season's end), Tech is at their peak. After this year, Harrell is gone. A 3-year starter, he has matured into a fantastic quarterback and his performance will be sorely missed next year, no matter how good his successor is. Additionally, several pieces of the team will be headed out, either by eligibility, by the draft, or by both. All teams must replace players every year, but some years are more profound than others, and Tech will see that this season.
Mike Leach's stock will never be higher than today.
Not only will Leach have his best opportunity for a high-dollar move this year, a move also buys him more grace and forgiveness from the fanbase. If the Red Raiders slide back to 8-4 over the next 3-4 years, this year will be a distant memory and some may even wonder if Leach has "lost the touch". However, if Leach goes to UT and suffers through three or four 8-4 seasons, most of those will simply be "rebuilding". The simple fact is a new coach has more margin for error than a tenured coach. After all, that's largely why people were getting tired of Fulmer several years ago - he was too familiar. And familiarity breeds contempt.
And just to be clear: Tennessee fans know it will be rebuilding. There are a lot of very good athletes on the team, but it will take some time to get a new system in place and in order. We learned that lesson already. We'll give the time.
This is the time for Leach to sell his Texas Tech stock at an all-time high, while buying Tennessee stock at a historic low.
SECOND FIDDLE TO NOBODY
Texas Tech is a great coaching gig. Tech is located on an island of humanity in the middle of the North Texas desert where everybody is football-insane. The head coach of the Red Raiders is the most beloved man in Lubbock, and the pay's not exactly shabby. There's only one slight problem:
The Texas Longhorns have always been (and will always be) the premier team in the state. Even in their lean years, the Longhorns are the bell cows of the most football crazy state in the nation. Teams like Tech and Texas A&M have their followings, but ultimately must stand in line behind Texas (and even Oklahoma) for the top recruits. It's not that you can't recruit well in Lubbock, it's that the team from Austin will always be able to recruit better. With their superior following, their superior budget, and even advantages in state legislation, UT-Austin will have the upper hand. An average coach at Austin will always be able to field a top-flight team and appear to be the equal of any coach in Lubbock, no matter how skilled.
Knoxville is Tennessee's Austin. UT-K is the premier spot for college football, and the top recruits are naturally attuned to play at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee itself isn't the football wellspring that Texas is, but the Volunteers are as highly revered in their own state as the Longhorns are in the Lone Star. You get the best resources. You get the best recruits. You get all of the favors that Lubbock provided, and more. You get every opportunity to take your system to the highest levels it can go.
This ties in with the previous argument, but Knoxville is national in recruiting. With the largest recruiting budget in the SEC, the Volunteers pull top players from all over the country. Rather than watching the only two decent left tackle prospect in Texas go to Austin and Norman, wouldn't it be better to get the short list of elite left tackles in the country, knowing that you can actually go and get them? UTenn realizes that their own state isn't sufficient to field a championship team on a consistent basis, so they give you the resources you need to go get the team you want.
Find 'em, get 'em, train 'em, and win with 'em. That's Tennessee football in a nutshell.
IT'S NOT LUBBOCK
The differences between North Texas and East Tennessee are myriad. One is a desert, the other is the near-perfect vegetation growing climate. One has the geological features of a pancake; the other is at the Smokies. One is notable for oil wells, the other has trees. But it doesn't stop there.
Lubbock is really on the edge of the world, in a sense. It's a long, long drive to anywhere else in Texas, and far removed from California, Colorado, and other places people actually like to go. Meanwhile, Knoxville is centrally located among places like Atlanta, DC, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Chicago, Nashville, and even the Kentucky Derby. In any direction you drive from Knoxville, you will find more places to go, people to see, and things to do. You have connections to the rest of the country. With the exception of the oil companies, many industries are linked through Knoxville, be it for Oak Ridge National Laboratory or merely the interstate. Knoxville is in the middle of things, and you have the country laid open before you.
It sure beats oil fires for touchdowns... (courtesy of lawvol)
PROOF OF CONCEPT
We can all remember the early days of Leach's tenure at Tech. Everybody regarded the offense as flashy and gadgety: an offense good enough to run up tremendous scores against average teams, but not good enough to hang with the elite. When Tech QBs led the NCAA in passing year after year, they were passed up by the NFL as "products of a system". Even the receivers had hard times getting pro gigs. The difficulty in getting respect is simple to explain: people didn't believe the offense was legitimate.
Nowadays, the claims of illegitimacy are quieter. With the exception of some bitter Texas fans and some very relieved Sooners fans, the college football world is tremendously respectful of the Tech team. Even ESPN is aglow about their visits to Lubbock. (LUBBOCK. Let that sink in for a bit.) Yet some people do persist. In particular, some crazy SEC fans still crow that the Tech offense wouldn't stand a chance against top Southeastern defenses. Even if Tech beats a solid SEC team in a bowl game, some people will claim that is was merely one game, one team, against a rusty SEC squad that didn't have their hearts in it. (You can already hear it, can't you?)
Well, Leach, here's your chance. Take Tennessee, bring your offense to the ESS-EEE-SEE and silence the last refuge of critics. Prove that you can compete at the top levels within the SEC, and no critic will be able to speak against you. You will have won over the college world. Not bad, lawya. Not bad at all.