Tennessee's head coaching search is nearing panic mode if it hasn't hit it already, as the three top reported candidates have turned the job down. Only one coach remains from the apparent initial A-list of guys, which compiled from various reports appears to have been:
- Jon Gruden
- Mike Gundy
- Charlie Strong
- Larry Fedora
Having a good short list for coaching candidates at all times is important for an athletic director, but it's never more so than when he or she is preparing to fire a coach. Dave Hart has been in Knoxville for more than a year, so he's had plenty of time to prepare. While there isn't a bad name on the above list, let's take a moment to describe them rather than list names:
- The athletic director's white whale who is an NFL guy through and through and makes more as a TV analyst than almost every college head coach does
- A guy bringing unprecedented success to his alma mater, which has a megabooster with nearly unlimited resources
- A coach known to be extremely loyal to the institution that finally gave him his long overdue chance at a head coaching job
- A guy who just completed his first year at his current school who might not want to leave and risk the reputational backlash that Todd Graham got last year for bailing on a school after a single season
To be clear, I don't know for sure that Fedora has turned the job down, though he might have. Hart could still land one of these four coaches. However, it's almost as through he picked the four exactly wrong coaches to put on the top of the list. Tennessee is an upgrade over all of these schools, and might be over the Monday Night Football booth depending on what you're looking for career-wise, but merely being an upgrade is not always enough to lure a new coach.
Going to the B-list sometimes works out; Pete Carroll was famously way down on USC's list before he got the job and turned the program into a juggernaut. Good candidates are still out there. George Michael "Mike" MacIntyre did an amazing turnaround job at San Jose State and has coached in the southeast before. Willie Taggart has done wonders for Western Kentucky and is right nearby. Bobby Petrino is out there if Hart wants to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. If he drops his head coaching experience requirement, which did so much for Derek Dooley, then it opens the door to a familiar face in John Chavis and a real up-and-comer in Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Still though, this process has only served to make the program in Knoxville look even more in disarray. Wherever Dave Hart goes from here, he needs to do it quickly and decisively.