Okay, let’s be honest here for a moment: Watching Tennessee’s game against Southern Miss on Saturday night was torture.
For all the kids who attended their first game, I, on the behalf of the entire Knoxville community, apologize that you had to watch one of the nation’s worst offenses become even more of a train wreck. This type of damage is borderline irreversible and has potentially derailed whatever progress we’ve made as a society.
Speaking of a lack of progress, Butch Jones is still the head coach at Tennessee, but not for much longer. The embattled fifth-year coach is a dead man walking.
But the question hasn’t been when Jones was going to get fired. The question that nobody can seem to put a finger on is who his replacement will eventually be.
With dozens of names being thrown around over the past few months, athletic director John Currie should narrow his list to the following seven names and pull out all the stops to hire one of them.
A few weeks ago, I would’ve laughed off the idea of Jon Gruden becoming Tennessee’s next head coach. But for one reason or another, his name has failed to vanish from the discussion.
The Grumors were a dabble in fantasy in September, but now, it’s picking up legitimate, as Vegas continued to lower the odds of his hiring and Gruden himself is dropping hints that he wants to coach in the near future. He’s even dubbed Tennessee a “dream job.”
If Currie were to pull this off, it’s the type of big-splash hire fans in Knoxville are so desperate for. Do we know if Gruden can handle all the intricacies of college coaching? No, but what separates Gruden from every other candidate is his celebrity status. This will make Tennessee’s brand even more lucrative than it already is, but more importantly, it will draw players from all over the country to Rocky Top.
It’s a risk, but after tossing the idea around in my head over the past couple of nights, it’s a risk worth taking.
This isn’t a hyperbolic statement — Chip Kelly is an offensive genius.
Meanwhile, Butch Jones is anything but an offensive genius. After scoring 11 offensive touchdowns in their first two games, the Vols have scored nine such touchdowns in their last seven games. With a simple dose of Kelly’s innovative offensive mind, that problem would be alleviated.
However, the chances of hiring Kelly are likely slim to none for two big reasons: Recruiting in general and recruiting in the SEC.
It’s no secret that Kelly loathes recruiting. And if he already hates it, imagine how much more he would hate recruiting in the SEC.
Hopefully he would find it in his heart to get over it and come make Tennessee’s anemic offense the most explosive in the country. For a moment, just picture what Kelly could do with Jarrett Guarantano, Ty Chandler, Carlin Fils-Aime, and Marquez Callaway.
After Gruden and Kelly, no name has been thrown around more than Dan Mullen’s.
What Mullen has pulled off at Mississippi State is incredible. For starters, the fact that he’s resided in Starkville, Mississippi, for multiple years without suffering a mental breakdown is more impressive than anything any coach has ever accomplished.
Even more impressive is the fact that he had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 not too long ago.
Mullen is a clearly a great offensive mind — he helped develop Dak Prescott into the quarterback he is today and he’s turned Nick Fitzgerald into one of the SEC’s top signal callers.
My biggest gripe with Mullen potentially getting the job is how safe it appears to be. Again, Mullen’s success in Starkville deserves soaring praise, but is Mullen really the coach who is prepared to take on Kirby Smart, Florida’s next coach, and Nick Saban and potentially topple all three?
I have my doubts, especially after Mississippi State struggled to put away UMass.
Sounds familiar, eh?
But in defense of Mullen, he has experience in the SEC and he clearly knows what he’s doing on offense. Both qualities would be embraced with open arms in Knoxville.
What Frost has done at UCF is nothing short of phenomenal.
The Knights went from winless in 2015 to a bowl-game appearance during Scott’s first season in 2016 to currently 8-0 and ranked in the top 25.
Yet Jones can’t even compete in the SEC East during his fifth season. Sad!
What makes Frost so unique other than his ability to swiftly bring life to a dying program is who he’s been around. Frost’s mind has been influenced by the likes of Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, and Bill Belichick, all of whom are legendary coaches in different manners.
The issue with Frost?
Tennessee probably isn’t that high on his list. With the Florida job opening up and Nebraska’s (his Alma Mater) potentially opening up in the near future, Frost is faced with two jobs he’d rather take than the one in Knoxville. If the Gators manage to acquire his services, then the need for an elite hire from Tennessee will sky rocket.
Campbell rests on the same plane as Frost. He’s turned around an Iowa State program that has no business of being competitive.
Yet, the Cyclones have shocked the college football world in Campbell’s second season, going 6-3 so far this season with a pair of wins over top-5 teams in Oklahoma and TCU, plus near victories over Iowa and West Virginia.
What makes Campbell such an appealing candidate other than his on-the-field workings is how he approaches coaching. He’s a big believer in “the process,” and while most coaches claim to support one form of process or another, there’s tangible evidence that there is a successful process taking shape in Ames, Iowa.
Jeff Brohm and Mike Norvell
I pair Jeff Brohm and Mike Norvell together because they’re in the same category. If Currie can’t land anybody on his initial list of big names, then contacting Brohm and Norvell is the next logical step.
They aren’t as appealing as a Gruden or a Kelly, but let’s not ignore what both bring to the table.
Brohm’s wildly successful stint at Western Kentucky landed him a job at Purdue, one of the toughest places to win in the Power 5. Currently, Brohm has the Boilermakers at 4-5 (they had won just nine times over their past 39 games), with the five losses coming by a combined 36 points.
Meanwhile, Norvell has Memphis ranked and rolling on offense under Riley Ferguson, who ironically enough, used to play under Jones at Tennessee. It also doesn’t hurt that Norvell coaches in the state of Tennessee, which is a budding hub of high school talent.