Derek Dooley was fired Sunday after one of the worst losses in school history to rival Vanderbilt. This came as a surprise to no one as Dooley’s SEC record in his three year tenure with the Vols is 4-19 (including a loss to Kentucky last season to snap a 26 game win streak against the Wildcats) with an overall record of 15-21. He has posted a losing record every year since taking over head coaching duties for the Volunteers and Tennessee has made it to only one bowl in his tenure. Tennessee will be looking for their fourth coach in six years and whoever they hire will have the difficult task of bringing the Vols back to national relevance. During the glory years under Phillip Fulmer Tennessee averaged just three losses a year. Since then the Volunteers have struggled to stay above .500 and make it to bowls. The Vols are in a tough spot financially due to NCAA probation, buyouts, and a budget deficit for the 2011-2012 academic year. Yet, Tennessee needs to find a good coach, who will be reasonably priced, and have the ability to turn the program back into the powerhouse it once was. Below is a list of qualified candidates who meet these criteria.
Remember when fans and experts were saying that Arkansas had the talent to contend in the SEC West this year regardless of if Petrino was the head coach? Well they were terribly wrong as the Razorbacks are going to miss out on a bowl this year without him. Their struggles show how valuable a signal caller Petrino is and what he can do for your football program. He has head coaching experience which is something the Volunteers want (and need) and the credentials to walk in and instantly demand the respect from everyone affiliated with the program. He has finished in the top ten of the BCS rankings four times during his eight years as a college coach (twice at Louisville and twice at Arkansas) which is something Tennessee has not managed to do since 2003. The great thing about Petrino is that he is coming off of a scandal and should be cheaper than he would be had he not crashed his motorcycle.
Few people have the insight and understanding of SEC and Tennessee football, but Cutcliffe does. In fact, Cutcliffe withdrew his name from consideration the last time Tennessee was looking for a football coach, something vols fans should hope doess not happen twice. He started off as an assistant coach under Fulmer and worked with star quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tee Martin. Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator for the National Championship team as well. Fans should not be too discouraged by his head coaching record (just 65-67) because he has spent the last five seasons coaching at Duke, which is a very difficult place to win games if you are a football coach. Yet, he has found a way to improve the football program and the Blue Devils are now bowl eligible for the first time since 1995 (just their ninth bowl game in school history). He is a quality coach who is flying under the radar, and may even give the Vols a hometown discount seeing as he has strong Tennessee ties.
Speaking of coaches with SEC (and Ole Miss) ties, Tuberville is another great option that the Tennesse brass should consider inquiring about. He is the head coach at Texas Tech, but you have to believe that if a job opened up in the SEC (a conference he did extremely well in while he was a head coach) he would take it. Tennessee is rich in tradition (much like Auburn and Ole Miss) and being the Vols head coach will allow him to reacquaint himself with all of his old SEC rivals (Georgia and Alabama). Tuberville would also get a chance to inflict some pay back on two of the schools that he used to coach for in Auburn and Ole Miss. While he will not come cheap, the Vols should certainly see if there is a way to lure him to Knoxville. After all, he has an overall record of 130-75, is 7-3 in bowls, and while at Auburn beat arch rival Alabama six straight times.
If you can not beat them join them, it is that simple. Not only is Smart one of the best assistant coaches in the nation, he is the best assistant coach from your arch rival’s program. Hiring him away from Alabama will simultaneously make the Vols a little better and the Crimson Tide a little worse, closing the huge gap between the two programs. The problem with Smart is that he is going to be a hot commodity at the end of the year and Tennessee cannot afford a biding war for his services. However, hiring a defensive minded coach like Smart might be just what the Vols need to make a return trip to prominence and snap their six game losing streak to Alabama.
The Vols do not have the money to lure him away from the NFL, so in order for this to have a chance at working he will need to be fired from the Buffalo Bills. Provided he loses his job after this year, Gailey would be a terrific hire for Tennessee. He has years of coaching experience in both professional and college football, is a great offensive mind, and should be able to help turn the Vols football program around. Georgia Tech was the last college team he coached and they made it to bowl games in all six of his seasons. Not bad considering Tennessee has missed out on bowl eligibility the past two years.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.
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