The inevitable finally happened. Tennessee has moved on from Butch Jones, following a blowout loss at the hands of Missouri. The only surprise here was how long John Currie waited to pull the trigger.
With things now being official, we can now go full steam ahead into this coaching search. Buckle up, it’s sure to be a fun ride. Here’s my initial list of names to watch. They are in no particular order.
Jon Gruden, Former Buccaneers, Raiders Head Coach
Gruden gets his own category here. If this coaching search goes anything like the last one, the search will begin here. Gruden has been the dream for some Tennessee fans for nearly a decade now. The former Super Bowl winner has Tennessee ties (Gruden was a graduate assistant at Tennessee) and does make some sense.
The question here has always been this — will he leave the Monday Night Football booth for a college job? He said he wouldn’t this summer, but things change.
I’m not sure whether I should believe or dismiss the Gruden talk, but he’s got to be on the list for now — at least until he tells Tennessee no. Things seem slightly more realistic this time around.
Can Gruden win in college? Can he adapt to the challenges of recruiting? Will he give up his gig with ESPN?
Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
(Candidates will be removed as they take jobs elsewhere.)
Dan Mullen, Head Coach, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Once you get past Jon Gruden, Dan Mullen is the guy that most people are associating with the Tennessee job. He’s currently in his 9th year at Mississippi State. He’s had his down years in Starkville, but he’s won just about as big as he possibly can there too. His team with Dak Prescott hit number one for a few weeks. His Nick Fitzgerald led team is now taking on that same look.
Mullen’s quarterback resume is second to none. He would bring stability and offense to Knoxville — something that Tennessee fans are craving right now. But can Tennessee wrestle him away from Mississippi State? Will Florida jump in this mix?
Can Mullen be a championship caliber coach? We’ve seen him nearly do it in Starkville before. Would he get over the hump at Tennessee?
You can read Evan Winter’s full Mullen breakdown here.
Mike Gundy, Head Coach, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Gundy nearly took the Tennessee job back in 2012, or so that’s what was reported. The guy just keeps winning at Oklahoma State. He’s got double digit wins in five of his last eight seasons, he’s just never been able to do much more. Might he be looking around for a new challenge? Tennessee could offer him some better resources for sure.
Would his Big 12 style work at Tennessee? Is he the guy that can get you to the next level?
Chip Kelly, Former Oregon, Eagles and 49ers Head Coach
Chip Kelly is one of the big fish out there, but there hasn’t been much heat around his name. He brought the Oregon Ducks to new heights, appearing in four straight BCS Bowls. He made it to one national title game during his time there before bolting to the NFL. Kelly’s offensive success speaks for himself.
Honestly, I’ve been a little surprise at the lack of noise around Kelly to this point.
I thought for sure that we would hear him linked to the Florida job by now. Of course, less than 24 hours after I write this, he’s now being connected with Florida.
I’ll write more on this later, but Kelly’s success came largely based off of his offense. It was innovative 6-7 years ago, but can he still win with it today in an era where the spread has taken over the college scene?
Would he even take an SEC gig? Those who know him are skeptical. It’s a different world down here.
Gary Patterson, Head Coach, TCU Horned Frogs
Patterson has put together a phenomenal career at TCU. He’s taken that program to heights that they haven’t seen since the 1930s. He currently sits at 157-56 during his 17 year career. Patterson said last week that he interviewed for the Tennessee job back in 2008, but felt that they had already decided on Lane Kiffin.
Would Patterson leave TCU? It seems like he’s pretty comfortable there after 17 years.
Bobby Petrino, Head Coach, Louisville Cardinals
This is a weird one. There’s no denying his successes, but is he a guy that you can build a program around? He has quite the history of being a total slimeball. From the notorious Falcons exit, to the infamous motorcycle incident at Arkansas — Petrino hasn’t exactly been an upstanding citizen.
Of course, winning cures all. Petrino won big at his first stop in Louisville and at Arkansas. He’s been a 9-4, 8-5 type since arriving at Louisville for his 2nd try. It’s a little different story this time around playing in the ACC.
We all know how Arkansas ended. And honestly — where is the Louisville program at without Lamar Jackson in the fold? Can he be trusted?
The Up and Comers
Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State Cyclones
Campbell has become one of the hottest names in the country following his quick success at Iowa State. After spending five seasons at Toledo, Campbell has the Cyclones playing some great football this year. Iowa State just fell to 6-4, but the progress is obvious to this point. That was a program that was down in the dumps.
Can he win big? We’re just now seeing some of the fruits of his work at Iowa State. The progress is there, but we haven’t seen the long term success.
Scott Frost, Head Coach, UCF Knights
To this point, Scott Frost has been the hot name of the up and coming coaches. Frost has turned around UCF in the blink of an eye, currently sitting undefeated and ranked. After going 6-7 in his first season, Frost has the Knights at 9-0 currently. The offensive mind comes from the Chip Kelly coaching tree.
I don’t have a lot of concerns here about Frost. However, he’s been heavily linked to both Florida and Nebraska, so Tennessee would likely have to pull off a miracle to land him.
Jeff Brohm, Head Coach, Purdue Boilermakers
Jeff Brohm’s demand was thrown into high gear with his early success at Purdue. The Boilermakers were just 3-9 in 2016, but Brohm has them on the right track and playing better football already. His name has cooled in recent weeks, however. He’s currently 4-6 in the first year of his rebuild.
Brohm came in behind Willie Taggert and Bobby Petrino at Western Kentucky. Was he simply riding their coattails? Is it too early to tell who he is in year one at Purdue?
Mike Norvell, Head Coach, Memphis Tigers
Norvell has built on the platform that Justin Fuente left for him. He went 8-5 in his first year at Memphis, but he currently has the Tigers at 8-1. The offensive guru spent time at Arizona State and Pittsburg before landing the job at Memphis.
How much of this success is because of Justin Fuente?
Tee Martin, Offensive Coordinator, USC Trojans
I’ll include Martin here because he’s going to be inevitably brought up. This just doesn’t feel like the route that Tennessee is going to take. Martin has climbed the coaching ladder to become USC’s offensive coordinator. But is he ready to take on a head coaching job with just two years of experience as a coordinator?
I would guess Martin would take this job, but it’s always risky hiring one of your own. It could make for some awkward situations if things don’t go well. The USC offense has quietly underachieved under Martin’s direction, too.
That does it for my list, but I’ll keep this post running with updates on all of the names that we hear.
Chris Petersen, Head Coach, Washington Huskies
In the past couple of days, Petersen’s name has popped up in association with Tennessee. There are certain guys that always seem to hover around every coaching cycle and this is one of them. He just doesn’t strike me as the type that would abandon what he’s built at Washington just yet. He spent eight years at Boise State despite plenty of buzz around his name. This would be a grand slam hire, but I’m not holding my breath.
D.J. Durkin, Head Coach, Maryland Terrapins
Durkin’s name has floated out there in connection with Tennessee. He’s done an admirable job at Maryland, but has hardly done anything to this point to really sell you. He’s a young (39), stout defensive mind that has proven he can recruit, however. Currie would have to be told no several times to get this far down the list, I think.
Willie Taggart, Head Coach, Oregon Ducks
Taggart’s name has popped up in connection with Florida and now Tennessee, per multiple outlets. It seems like he’d like to get back to the south if possible, with most saying that he would prefer to land in Florida.
Chad Morris, Head Coach, SMU Mustangs
Morris doesn’t exactly have the record at SMU to justify him getting the Tennessee job, but you need some context there. SMU was a total disaster when he arrived. He’s got the arrow pointing up already down there. We can’t forget the work that he did with Clemson’s offense, either.
Jimbo Fisher, Head Coach, Florida State Seminoles
Football Scoop reports that “Jimbo Fisher is willing to listen.” Of course he’s willing to listen. Jimbo wants a raise — don’t we all? It seems like we’ve been down this road before with Fisher and I’m not buying it.
PJ Fleck, Head Coach, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Football Scoop says that “Fleck is on Currie’s list.” He was one of the hot names last year, but didn’t get one of the big openings. Fleck ended up taking the Minnesota job and is currently 5-5 in his first season.
David Cutcliffe, Head Coach, Duke Blue Devils
Football Scoop says that Cutcliffe is on Currie’s list. There was a time when Cutcliffe would have made sense for Tennessee — now is not that time. Cut is 63 years old and won four games last year. He’s 4-6 right now. How are you going to sell that to the fanbase?
Mike Leach, Head Coach, Washington State Cougars
Leach is out there lurking in this cycle. He’s been connected to just about every opening or potential opening to this point. There’s no debating his ability to win football games, but some feel that his personality isn’t for everyone. I personally love the guy, but I’m not sure Currie would.
Kyle Wittingham, Head Coach, Utah Utes
Wittingham turned Tennessee down back in 2010 after Kiffin left. He’s had his peaks and valleys — but has won double digit games just once since joining the Pac 12 in 2011. Pete Thamel mentioned him here.
Greg Schiano, Ohio State DC, Former Buccaneers, Rutgers Head Coach
I’ve heard a little bit about Schiano over the past month. He was outstanding at Rutgers, which led him to Tampa Bay. Schiano fits the experienced college winner profile for sure. Pete Thamel mentioned him here.
Kacy Rodgers, Defensive Coordinator, New York Jets
In our first “um, what?” moment of the search, the New York Daily News threw Rodgers at us. The former Vol has been an NFL assistant for 20+ years.