If you don't have a coaching candidate list, you're not in the "in crowd." With that said, here's Sports Director Paul Shahen's list of potential candidates for Tennessee's head coaching vacancy in no particular order.
Let's just get it out of the way, we all know you said his name in head as you read the headline to this story. He's the "dreamy" pick, I get it. I'm not going to hit the who said/reported what Gruden may have told your milkman (#Grumers) because it changes daily. We know he has family ties to East Tennessee, we know he has a soft spot for all things UT, we know he's a household name, huge plus when recruiting.
Tennessee has whiffed on two straight said to be rising stars of the coaching world. There's nothing up and coming about Gruden. He's won championships, albeit not in college, but not the made up versions. Argue who's players he won the Super Bowl with if you want, but you can't argue the fact that he still coached them to a Super Bowl victory.
His ESPN/Monday Night Football gig currently nets him a reported $6.5-million annually. Why would he leave that life? 1. Tennessee can pay that if they wanted to. 2. ESPN is reportedly going to lay off 100 plus employees before 2018. They've had two massive rounds of layoffs since fall of 2015. The future of Monday Night Football may not be in question, but it's fair to guess that the format of live sporting events across all stations may change in the near future. 3. I do not claim to know Gruden but he strikes me as a dude who would suck at retirement, as in get way too bored.
Starkville people. Starkville. Have I been? No. Would I move there? No. (wait how much $ are we talking?) Would I love the gameday environment? Yes. But that's not the point. Mullen has recruited NFL stars to Starkville, Mississippi. That's not easy to do. He has an eye for talent, another example is current QB Nick Fitzgerald who's now 4th all time SEC rushing QB's. You know who he beat to land Fitzgerald's commitment? The Chattanooga Mocs, our of the FCS, that's who.
Mullen has won on average 8 games and he's done it in a far more superior SEC West. By my math, 8 wins a year in the SEC West is worth 10 wins a year in the SEC East. Mullen has peaked at Mississippi St. What else can he accomplish there? Maybe more in a different era, but Nick Saban will not let it happen. He's paid handsomely at just over $4-million a year, but again, Tennessee can pay more than that, and they should.
Nope, I'm not sipping grandpa's cough syrup. My news director has a strict no "grandpa's cough syrup" while working policy. I respect it.
He burned you once, you burned a mattress in protest. An eye for an eye, get over it. Someone devised a terrible contract which allowed him to leave for his "dream job" with little to no reason to question his buyout. It sent him on a weird ride which saw him fired on a tarmac, win a national championship, leave Nick Saban and pump life back into a left for dead FAU football program which by the way boasts one of the nations top offenses. Basically everything Tennessee's offense hasn't been.
Tennessee needs for lack of a better word, swagger. He like Gruden has that. No more cheesy lines and paint drying on a wall press conferences.
He's also, love it or hate it, brilliant at Twitter. Oh also, #RatPoison.
I don't feel like wasting your time. See: Florida Gators.
Imagine his Oklahoma State offense with a mean SEC defense, boom you've got Clemson's national championship team. Easier said than done I get it, but Gundy knows how to score like few head coaches do. The Vols have made runs at him in the past but it's going to take a lot to get Gundy away from his Alma mater.
Jim Bob Cooter:
You wish your name was that cool. Like Gruden, he has no real college coaching experience but has had ample NFL success. Cooter was a Grad Assistant from 2007-2008 under Fulmer. Cooter a former UT backup quarterback clearly has a strong connection with Peyton Manning, Cooter was an offensive assistant for several years at Indianapolis while Peyton was there and for a year with Peyton in Denver. He's been the offensive coordinator for Detroit since 2015.
Another VFL. Martin quarterbacked Tennessee's last National Championship team and he's been leading one of college football's most prolific offenses out west at USC for two years. Before taking over as OC at USC he coached the Trojans wide receivers since 2012.
It seems Cutcliffe who is 63 will ride out the rest of his career at Duke, but it's worth mentioning the 15 years he spent as a Tennessee assistant. Four of which saw him working hand in hand with the greatest quarterback to every play inside Neyland. Yes, Peyton and yes I know you knew that.
Kidding, just kidding, kidding. Actually, maybe not. You can't avoid the success Petrino has had on offense everywhere he's been. Louisville, Western Kentucky, Arkansas. His departure from Arkansas was a mess off the field, there's no getting around that. If John Currie wanted to go down that road, it's a risky road, kind of like a slick road with wet leaves on two wheels. See what I did there?
Names to consider:
A few names that I put in the up and coming category, a category that I do not think Tennessee wants to dip into again but may.
Scott Frost: Has UCF ranked, unlike Tennessee. He's a Chip Kelly offensive assistant.
Jeff Brohm: A trendy name who has more SEC wins than Tennessee. Brohm with Purdue beat Missouri 35-3 this year. Before Purdue he went 30-10 at Western Kentucky.
Mike Norvell: For starters, just look at the numbers he's putting up with former Tennessee QB Riley Ferguson at Memphis. They're of the video game world. His only loss in year two at Memphis is to UCF and Scott Frost (see above.) Norvell will get a rematch in the American Conference Championship Game.
**Again, these are in no specific order. I'll update as I feel the need to.