Tennessee has fired coach Butch Jones after Saturday’s 50-17 loss at Missouri. Jones went 34-27 in his five seasons as the Volunteers’ head coach but never delivered a SEC East title or a year of double-digit wins. Tennessee won 18 games from 2015-16 and finished in the top 25 in both of those seasons. However, the program was clearly trending down in 2017 and is in danger of missing a bowl for the first time since 2013. While Jones brought some progress to Knoxville, Tennessee was falling behind Georgia in the SEC East, and Florida will have a new coach in 2018.
Defensive line coach and former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke will serve as the interim coach for the program’s last two games. The Volunteers are 4-6 with matchups remaining against LSU and Vanderbilt.
Who could replace Jones in 2018? Here are 15 candidates;
15 Candidates to Replace Butch Jones at Tennessee
Mike Bobo, head coach, Colorado State
Bobo is probably a longshot for this job, but he’s a coach to watch for Power 5 openings this offseason. He’s 20-17 at Colorado State and has the Rams on track to earn their fifth consecutive bowl appearance. Since taking over for Jim McElwain, Colorado State has posted back-to-back 7-6 seasons and is 6-5 through 11 contests in 2017. Bobo has previous experience in the SEC, working as an assistant at Georgia from 2001-14.
Jeff Brohm, head coach, Purdue
Under Brohm’s direction, Purdue has made significant improvement on the gridiron in 2017. The Boilermakers are 4-6 through 10 games, and this program has been more competitive in Big Ten action than it was under the previous coaching staff. Prior to Purdue, Brohm went 30-10 at WKU and guided the Hilltoppers to back-to-back Conference USA titles. Brohm is a native of Kentucky, so he’s no stranger to life in the SEC. However, with this being his first season at Purdue, it’s tough to see him departing West Lafayette.
Neal Brown, head coach, Troy
Brown is in his third season at Troy, guiding the program to a 22-13 record since 2015. He had big shoes to fill in replacing Larry Blakeney at Troy but led the Trojans to a 10-win season in 2016 and beat LSU in Baton Rouge this year. The Kentucky native has previous experience in the SEC from a two-year run as Mark Stoops’ offensive coordinator with the Wildcats from 2013-14. Additionally, he called the plays at Texas Tech (2010-12) and Troy (2008-09). Brown is a young, up-and-coming coach who has a strong background on offense.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Iowa State
Campbell is worth a mention in this space as a potential candidate, but it’s also important to note he has a hefty buyout ($9.4 million) at Iowa State. It’s tough to see Campbell leaving Ames with that in mind, but he’s a rising star on the coaching circuit. Campbell went 35-15 at Toledo and is 9-13 through two seasons at Iowa State. The Cyclones have showed marked improvement from 2016 to 2017, as this team has a chance to earn a trip to the Big 12 title game.
Scott Frost, head coach, UCF
Frost is a rising star in the head coaching ranks and has UCF ranked as the top Group of 5 team in just his second year at the helm. In Frost’s two years in Orlando, the Knights are 15-7 and 10-4 in AAC play. UCF made a six-game improvement in the win column in Frost’s debut and is on track to double last year’s win total (six) to 12 in 2017. Frost is regarded as one of the top offensive-minded head coaches in the nation. The former Nebraska quarterback worked under Chip Kelly at Oregon from 2009-12 and called the plays for the Ducks from 2013-15. At UCF, Frost’s offense is averaging 48.6 points a game in 2017, up from 28.8 in 2016. He’s also expected to generate interest at Florida.
Jon Gruden, former NFL head coach
Gruden’s name has been mentioned for this job in previous searches and is likely to come up once again. He went 38-26 from 1998-01 as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and was 57-55 from 2002-08 at Tampa Bay. Gruden only had two losing seasons as a NFL head coach and won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002. Additionally, he’s got ties to the program after working as a grad assistant in Knoxville from 1986-87. Gruden has not coached at the collegiate level since 1991.
Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy has extensive ties to the Oklahoma State program, as he’s a former quarterback for the school and has worked as the head coach since 2005. Needless to say, it would take a lot for him to leave Stillwater. Gundy is 112-52 since taking over as the program’s head coach and guided Oklahoma State to a No. 3 finish in the Associated Press poll in 2011. Gundy is also regarded for his work in developing quarterbacks and high-powered offenses.
Chip Kelly, ESPN analyst, former Oregon/NFL coach
Kelly is currently working as an ESPN analyst but has been mentioned as a candidate in a couple of searches this offseason. Could he resurface on the sidelines at Tennessee or at Florida? In addition to being an offensive innovator, Kelly went 46-7 as Oregon’s head coach from 2009-12. The Ducks won at least 10 games in every year in that span and played for the national championship in the 2010 season. Kelly left Eugene for the NFL in 2013 and spent three seasons with the Eagles, accumulating a 26-21 record. He was dismissed from Philadelphia just before the 2015 season ended and was hired as San Francisco’s head coach for 2016, where he finished 2-14. Life as a head coach in the SEC isn’t easy. Would Kelly prefer to stay in the studio with ESPN or potentially look for a job with less scrutiny out in the Pac-12? Tennessee needs to find out.
Tee Martin, offensive coordinator, USC
Martin will eventually get a job as a Power 5 head coach, but it’s probably too early for him to return to his alma mater. The former Tennessee quarterback has worked at USC since 2012, including the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator.
Chad Morris, head coach, SMU
Morris is a coach with extensive ties to the state of Texas, so he could be a prime candidate for any openings (Texas A&M?) in the Lone Star State this offseason. After spending from 1994-09 in the high school ranks, he was hired to call the plays at Tulsa in 2010. Under Morris’ watch, the Golden Hurricane averaged 41.4 points a game that season. Morris became Clemson’s play-caller in 2011 and remained in Death Valley through 2014. His hire and development of the offense was a big reason why the Tigers won 42 games from 2011-14. Morris inherited a struggling SMU program in 2015 but has brought steady improvement to Dallas. The Mustangs are 13-21 over the last three years but finished 5-7 last season and are 6-4 through 10 games in 2017.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Mullen could be courted by a couple of SEC programs this offseason, as his name has been mentioned for the open job at Florida. Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West, yet the Bulldogs have been to seven consecutive bowl games and posted winning records in six out of the last seven years. Additionally, this program won 10 games, ranked No. 1 in the first CFB Playoff rankings and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2014. The Pennsylvania native worked under Urban Meyer in Gainesville from 2005-08 and also has stops on his resume from stints at Utah, Bowling Green and Notre Dame. Mullen has a strong background on offense and a track record of developing quarterbacks. That’s a huge need in Knoxville right now. He’s 68-45 since taking over as Mississippi State’s head coach.
Mike Norvell, head coach, Memphis
Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente left off and has Memphis poised to finish in the top 25 this season. The Tigers went 8-5 in Norvell’s debut and are off to a 8-1 start in 2017. Overall, Memphis is 16-6 under Norvell and is the frontrunner to win the AAC’s West Division this season. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Memphis, Norvell worked under Todd Graham at Arizona State as the offensive coordinator from 2012-15 and also at Pitt (2011) and Tulsa (2007-10). Norvell is one of college football’s youngest coaches at age 36. And he’s also one of the nation’s top minds on offense.
Bobby Petrino, head coach, Louisville
It’s no secret Petrino would come with some baggage. However, he’s also a proven winner and produces high-scoring offenses – something Tennessee desperately needs. And with a new athletic director on the way in Louisville, this might be the right time for Petrino to return to the SEC. He’s 115-47 as a head coach, including a 34-17 stint at Arkansas from 2008-11.
Greg Schiano, defensive coordinator, Ohio State
It’s only a matter of time before Schiano gets another head coaching job at a Power 5 school. He went 68-67 at Rutgers from 2001-11 and worked as the head coach of the Buccaneers from 2012-13. Rutgers was a program in need of major repair in 2001, and Schiano brought steady improvement during his tenure, which included an 11-win season in 2006. Since he was fired from Tampa Bay, Schiano was out of football for two seasons and has worked as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator since 2016.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson
Venables is one of the top assistant coaches in college football and is a big reason why Clemson has become an annual contender for the CFB Playoff title. Venables has worked as Clemson’s defensive coordinator since 2012 and has previous stops on his resume at Oklahoma and Kansas State. He has no experience as a head coach or in the SEC.