Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Christmas to Remember on Rocky Top?

With each passing day it’s looking more and more likely that the University of Tennessee’s search for a new coach will still be a hot topic of conversation as families gather around the Christmas tree.

Almost every coach mentioned as a candidate for the Vols’ job has their hands full through the regular season and some may not be available until bowl season is underway. So, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season the “Legit Sports” blog debuts with a list of possible mid-December Christmas presents for the Vol Nation.

In a coaching search that UT athletic director Mike Hamilton guaranteed would spread far and wide, names have been thrown out ranging from Bill Cowher to Todd Graham which leaves room for the possibility that we will all be shocked at who Hamilton introduces at that highly anticipated mid-December press conference.

If the Vol Nation wants a refund on Hamilton’s “gift” this Christmas, it is likely that he won’t last as long as the next coach. However, Hamilton deserves the benefit of the doubt because he has proven to be a shrewd businessman in his time as AD and deserves a lot of credit for bringing Bruce Pearl to Knoxville and keeping him here.

If he pulls off another coaching hire that works out anything like the Bruce Pearl experiment then the Vols could be headed for two-sport dominance rivaled by only Florida and Texas.
Vol Nation, here is your list of potential early Christmas presents…

“A New Car”

Jon Gruden, Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lovie Smith, Head Coach of the Chicago Bears

A car is really the mother of all Christmas presents and a surprising hire of either Gruden or Smith would be the same for the Vols faithful. Both coaches have ties to Knoxville from early in their careers (Gruden was a Graduate Assistant and Smith was the Vols’ Defensive Backs coach in ’93 and ’94) and have at least been rumored to have interest in a major college job.

Both would be grand slams for the University and the football program as they would bring with them the highest level of professionalism and excellent coaching ability, not to mention a Super Bowl ring for Gruden and an NFC Championship for Smith. The next coach is going to have to go head to head with the finest coaches in the country on the recruiting trail and it goes without saying that these two would instantly be tough recruiting competition in the SEC.

“A Nintendo Wii game console”

Lane Kiffin, former Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders

Much like the Wii, the 33-year old Kiffin would be like an exciting new toy for Vol fans this Christmas, but may end up not being worth the relatively high price tag.

Hiring Kiffin would certainly be a bold gamble for Hamilton, but it could generate both fan excitement and success on the field very quickly. There is a lot to like about Kiffin including the record-setting offenses that he coached at USC in 2005-06 and his three consecutive #1 nationally ranked recruiting classes as the Trojans’ recruiting coordinator.

Forget about his short tenure as the Raiders head coach because it was in no way a fair reflection on Kiffin’s ability to coach. He is going to end up being a great coach somewhere and Vols fans may wish they had him five years from now.

“Red Ryder BB Gun”

Butch Davis, Head Coach at the University of North Carolina

The Red Ryder BB gun has been a Christmas favorite for decades for its dependability all around quality. Butch Davis would bring the same things to the Volunteer program and he also seems to be the favorite of many inside the UT athletic department despite his repeated disinterest in the Tennessee coaching job.

While it’s hard to see the program going south on Davis’ watch, he arguably has far less upside than some of the other candidates being mentioned. His reputation is built on his success as the head coach at Miami, but the Hurricanes were still in the Big East in those days which means he still hasn’t had significant success in major conference college football. And even this year at North Carolina, where he has revived his coaching career, all three of the Tar Heels losses came in the fourth quarter on questionable coaching decisions.

At 57, Davis is either past his prime or near the end of it and I don’t see much more than a few 9-4 or 10-3 seasons for him if he came to the SEC.

“$50 Best Buy Gift Card”

Will Muschamp, Defensive Coordinator at the University of Texas

At only 37 years old Muschamp is already a journeyman defensive coordinator after having served in that position at LSU, Auburn and Texas where he is currently Mack Brown’s DC.

In the same way you need to add a little extra money to a $50 Best Buy Gift Card to buy something nice , the defensive specialist Muschamp would need some great offensive minds around him to balance his lack of head coaching experience. He would bring the same kind of intensity and passion to the football program that Pearl has brought to the basketball program, but it’s unlikely that Hamilton risks his own career on a hot-headed college assistant with no head coaching experience.

“The Bruce Pearl Bobble Head Doll”

Brian Kelly, Head Coach at the University of Cincinnati

This would seem like an endorsement of Kelly simply by virtue of mentioning his name in the same breath as Bruce Pearl, but it’s more of a simple comparison of their similarities leading up to their first big break.

Kelly, also a Boston area native, was a big time winner in Division II at Grand Valley State before rebuilding a lost program at Central Michigan and then doing the same thing at Cincinnati. He’s got the Bearcats eyeing the Big East title for the second straight year and he would almost certainly be thrilled to have the opportunity to run a major program like Tennessee’s.

The media in Cincinnati raves about Kelly’s accessibility and his strength as a salesman causes many to compare him to Pearl. More importantly, he would treat the opportunity to coach at UT as the honor of a lifetime rather than a stepping stone to better things in much the same way Pearl has spoken of his opportunity at UT.

“Sweater from Grandma”

Mike Leach, Head Coach at Texas Tech University

He is one weird dude, and he is frankly one weird dude with a less than impressive resume. According to rankings, Leach has failed to bring in a Top 100 recruit since he’s been the Red Raiders’ head coach.

Worse yet is the fact that despite his thrilling offense, Leach has dabbled in Big 12 mediocrity ever season until this year.

An opening like the one at the University of Washington, is more fitting for the pirate-loving Leach.

“Sack of Coal”

Tim Brewster, Head Coach at the University of Minnesota
Todd Graham, Head Coach at the University of Tulsa
Chris Petersen, Head Coach at Boise St. University

Any of these coaches would present a worst possible scenario for the Vol Nation this Christmas. Brewster has mysteriously found his way into the discussion for UT’s new head coach because of some connection he has to the athletic department. Brewster didn’t get his first head coaching job until he was 46 and in two seasons at Minnesota he has managed to go 8-14, yet he is somehow being seen as an up and coming coach.

Graham and Petersen are mid-major gambles that could lead to a revolving door at the head coaching position for the Vols, much like Alabama’s situation over the past decade. Not to mention Petersen’s affinity for Scientology would go over like a lead balloon in East Tennessee. Enough said about those two.


ChicagoVol said...

As a Bear and Vols fan, Lovie is off limits to us. This would kill me. Chris Peterson and Todd Grahame have no chance. I have heard that Brewster is a masterful recruiter and Bill King local radio guy here in Nashville thinks highly of him. Last year the cupboard was absolutely bare in Minnesota. This certainly does not mean I am lobbying for him as a No 1 choice, but that I suspend judgement. I am ambivalent on Mike Leach. We have to remember though that Texas Tech is very much a regional school. Almost all the recruits they get sit right in the area. He didn't have the budget to go out and get whomever he wanted. Tennessee must recruit nationally to compete and the game would change for Leach in that regard. He would pull in top recruits, the issue is whether or not he can hire a defensive coordinator and if defensive players want to play for him, and that may not be true.

Riley said...

What about Skip Holtz? With him you might even get sideline appearances from Dr. Lou.