November 26, 2012
Candidates, timeline taking shape in search
The search for the next head football coach at the University of Tennessee took on an increased level of both urgency and planning Monday, though it still didn't take Volunteers' athletic department officials out of Knoxville.
Tennessee has largely unfolded its search to replace the fired Derek Dooley, who was formally dismissed Nov. 18, at a very deliberate, methodical clip and, sources indicated, planned to begin more in-depth, face-to-face discussions with candidates perhaps as early as Tuesday evening. Given the schedule of who has games left this week and what coaches who are thought to be on Hart's list are done, it would make sense to think that Tennessee would travel to the state of Florida this week if they are going to talk to candidates face to face. Speaking with numerous people throughout the weekend and Monday evening, VolQuest.com continues to think that both Jimbo Fisher and Al Golden will listen to Hart's and the Vols' pitch.
Though the Vols' brass has thus far remained in Knoxville, that is not to suggest the group --- spearheaded obviously by vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart --- hasn't been doing work.
With the absence of a search firm, more of the legwork falls upon UT's staff --- and that's Hart's preference. He doesn't want to take the word of third parties; Hart wants to conduct his own explorations into the backgrounds of each candidate.
Also, the coaching vacancies at other schools, as well as negotiations to keep coaches in place, also are both directly and indirectly impacting Tennessee.
Like Tennessee, Arkansas seems to be preparing to do work in New York City next week. Sources at Arkansas indicate that the Razorbacks' search party may do a couple of interviews this week before planning on having their search wrapped up sometime next week.
That more or less mirrors the search process that Tennessee is undertaking; the Vols will do some initial interviews with candidates this week and seek to work toward resolution, likely at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that hosts next week's College Football Hall of Fame ceremonies, next week.
The timeline of Tennessee optimally preferring to have a coach in place around the second weekend to first 10 days of December hasn't deviated. UT much prefers to have a coach in place with a direction on the recruiting trail before the NCAA-mandated dead period arrives on Dec. 16.
It's also our understanding that the goal with the Razorbacks is to hire a head coach who has real ties to Texas for recruiting purposes. One would think that would mean Gary Patterson would be a logical choice and he would be, but the word in Texas is that Patterson isn't very interested in the Razorbacks and isn't showing much desire to leave TCU.
The other name that has been linked with Arkansas in terms of who they have targeted is Mike Gundy. And the obvious question everyone has is will Gundy really leave Stillwater. Plenty of people believe Gundy merely is again leveraging for a raise, similar to a year ago when he interviewed with Texas A&M.
Elsewhere in the Midwest Monday, Bob Stoops flatly dismissed the notion he was a candidate or would be interested in the Tennessee position. Moreover, Stoops, it should be noted, likely would have carried an even greater price-tag than virtually any other candidate thus far mentioned. Stoops makes roughly $5 million as Oklahoma's head coach and has a hefty buyout.
There has been some chatter about Butch Davis, the deposed North Carolina coach. Davis allegedly is favored by at least one big-time Tennessee booster, but Davis' profile also would seem to contradict that of what Hart said he would seek when he announced Dooley's dismissal Nov. 18.
While some have indicated Davis may possess a letter that exonerates him from the scandal that rocked North Carolina and ultimately led to his ouster in Chapel Hill, it cannot go without mention that programs where Davis has presided --- UNC and Miami --- both have dealt with NCAA investigations during or shortly after his tenure.
"We want somebody with integrity. That is important," Hart said. "We just had our probation extended as you are well aware, we don't have a margin for error. We have to have a culture of compliance. That is the number one priority in our athletics department. The profile is one that you would expect it to be. Some of the people we will approach they won't want to engage until their season is over. Some people have a false sense that we are late, we are not, we are fine, I have done this many times. People need to take a deep breath. The door is not closing on our opportunities to find the right person
While the Vols aren't believed to be in any direct competition for their head coach with border rival Kentucky, the Wildcats' search does have some interesting cross-connections to Tennessee. While Butch Jones seems to have little to no interest in the UK post at this point, it is believed that Jones would definitely listen to Tennessee if Volunteers' representatives called.
At Auburn, where Gene Chizik formally was fired Sunday just two years after a national title, the belief is that Bobby Petrino would listen but as of earlier Monday had not been contacted. Multiple sources we spoke with in and around college football indicated they believed the Tigers could face a tough road to find a replacement for Chizik with a looming NCAA investigation.
While Tennessee recently had its probation extended stemming from the transgressions of one-year assistant Willie Mack Garza, the Vols were not docked any scholarships and did not suffer a bowl ban. Additionally, Tennessee already has fulfilled many of its NCAA obligations with measures taken earlier this year on the recruiting front.
And speaking of recruiting, the Vols' assistant coaches who hit the road on Monday indicated to recruits to keep an open mind to Tennessee and that the program desired to have a head coach in place within a week to 10 days, maintaining the timeline VolQuest.com noted last week.
Within the Volunteer State, Tennessee also is dealing with the continued attention being generated by an historic season at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are going bowling at 8-4 and, more importantly, sources indicate are preparing to hand out a significant pay increase to both head coach James Franklin and his staff. Franklin already was making more than Tennessee's coach entering this season, and it's believed that Vanderbilt will take Franklin over $3 million this week.
That, in college football economics, drives up the price of Tennessee's next coach.
Paul Fortenberry contributed to this report.
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