Tennessee Football’s Coaching Search Continues: Top Remaining Candidates?

Who will be Tennessee's next head coach?

With Mike Gundy, Larry Fedora and Charlie Strong saying no to Tennessee, the Volunteers' coaching search is wide open. The top names on athletic director Dave Hart's list have passed on the job, which leaves the school scrambling to find a new coach. There are still plenty of good coaches available for Tennessee, but it's important for the school that the coaching search doesn't drag deep into next week. 

15 Names to Watch in Tennessee's Coaching Search

Butch Davis, former North Carolina head coach – Davis is reportedly in the mix at FIU, but he would likely listen if Tennessee came calling. The Oklahoma native went 51-20 in six years with Miami from 1995-2000 and recorded three consecutive eight-win seasons with North Carolina in 2008-2010. Davis had a messy end to his tenure with the Tar Heels but has a 79-43 overall mark as a college head coach.

Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – If Tennessee chooses to look in the assistant ranks, Diaco should be in the mix to replace Dooley. Diaco has spent time as an assistant at Eastern Michigan, Western Illinois, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and for the last three years at Notre Dame. Diaco has no head coaching experience but has helped to lead the Fighting Irish to a rank of No. 1 overall in points allowed (10.3 ppg).


Al Golden, head coach, Miami – Considering the NCAA hammer is about to drop on Miami, Golden could be tempted to look at another job this offseason. The New Jersey native has spent most of his career on the East Coast, playing for Penn State from 1987-91 and coaching as an assistant at Virginia, Boston College and Penn State. Golden resurrected Temple and led the Owls to a 17-8 record during his final two years in Philadelphia. Miami is just 13-11 in his two years, but the program did not have an abundance of talent when he arrived. Golden has maintained he does not want to leave Miami, but considering the situation in Coral Gables, he could be enticed to bolt for the SEC.


Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – Jones has been a hot name in coaching searches this offseason, interviewing at Colorado and Purdue for openings at those schools. He has six years of head coaching experience, spending three years at Central Michigan and recording a 27-13 mark. During his time in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewas made three bowl appearances and claimed two MAC Championships. Jones moved to Cincinnati in 2010 and guided the Bearcats to a 23-14 mark over the last three seasons. Cincinnati has claimed a share of the Big East title in each of the last two years after going 4-8 in Jones’ first season in 2010. Although Jones isn’t a big-name hire, he’s a proven coach with experience and victories at two different stops.


Pete Lembo, Ball State – Lembo is a proven winner at three different stops during his coaching career and is ready to move up the ladder after two years at Ball State. He recorded a 44-14 mark in five years at Lehigh and a 35-22 record in five seasons with Elon, which included an appearance in the FCS playoffs. Lembo is 15-9 in two years with the Cardinals and improved his win total by three games from 2011 to 2012.


Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre has turned San Jose State into one of the WAC’s worst teams into a bowl team in just three years. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010, improved to 5-7 in 2011 and recorded a 10-2 mark and an appearance in the Military Bowl in 2012. MacIntyre has stops as an assistant at Temple, Ole Miss, Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. MacIntyre isn’t a flashy or a big name, but as the results have shown at San Jose State, he’s capable of leading a BCS program.


Doug Marrone, head coach, Syracuse – Marrone is a Syracuse alum, so it’s a longshot that he would be interested in leaving for Tennessee. However, he served as an assistant with the Volunteers in 2001 and was believed to be in the mix for this job after Phillip Fulmer was let go in 2008. Marrone has led the Orange to a 24-25 mark over the last four years, which includes two bowl appearances. It’s hard to envision Marrone leaving Syracuse, but it’s much easier to win big at Tennessee.


Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson - Morris has surprisingly not engaged in many coaching searches this offseason. He emerged as one of the top offensive minds in college football, leading Clemson's offense to an average of 42.3 points a game this season. Morris has no head coaching experience and already has a salary of $1.3 million, so it would take a significant raise to leave Clemson. Considering the Tigers return a chunk of talent on offense next year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stick around in Death Valley for one more season.


Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Although Mullen hasn’t expressed much interest in leaving Mississippi State, it’s worth a phone call for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to Starkville. Even though Mullen has yet to beat Alabama or LSU during his tenure in Starkville, there’s no doubt Mississippi State is an improved team. The Bulldogs will be making their third consecutive bowl appearance in 2012 and has a 13-19 mark in SEC play over the last four years. Mullen also has assistant experience from stops at Bowling Green, Notre Dame, Utah and Florida. Considering what Mullen has done in four years at Mississippi State, he could thrive at a program with more resources.


Bo Pelini, head coach, Nebraska – Just as we mentioned with Doug Marrone and Dan Mullen, it’s a longshot that Pelini would be interested in leaving his current job. However, with the top options falling through, Tennessee has to look at the next available candidates. Pelini has a good job at Nebraska and has a 49-19 overall record. He has led the Cornhuskers to six bowl games and claimed the Big Ten Legends Division title in 2012. Although Pelini has one of college football’s top 25 jobs, he does have previous experience in the SEC and is not working under the same athletic director that brought him to Lincoln.


Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach – Why not? Since Tennessee tried and failed to land Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong, the top options are running thin for Dave Hart. Yes, Petrino’s divorce from Arkansas was a mess, but it’s doubtful those issues pop up at his next school. Also, he’s ready work and would probably take less money in an effort to prove himself for the next few years. There’s a lot of baggage hanging around Petrino, but if Tennessee wants to compete for SEC titles, it needs to consider the former Arkansas head coach.


Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses. One downside to Roman’s candidacy has to be the 49ers’ playoff chances. With San Francisco likely to make a deep run into the NFL playoffs, Roman may not be available on a full-time basis until mid-January.


Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Tennessee’s last attempt at hiring a Nick Saban assistant didn’t go so well. And considering Derek Dooley’s tenure was a failure, the school probably has some concern about going back to that well in 2012. Smart doesn’t have head coaching experience, but he is regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation. Considering Saban plays a large role in Alabama’s defense, there’s a lot of concerns for athletic directors when considering Smart for any open vacancy.  


Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks and is ready for a promotion to a bigger program. He is 16-20 in three years with Western Kentucky, including back-to-back seven-win seasons in 2011-12. In addition to his time as a head coach at Western Kentucky, Taggart worked as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh for three seasons at Stanford. Taggart reportedly interviewed with South Florida and is believed to be a target for the opening at Wisconsin.


Tommy Tuberville, head coach, Texas Tech – Tuberville already has two tours of duty through the SEC, coaching at Ole Miss from 1995-98 and at Auburn in 1999-2008. In four seasons with the Rebels, he recorded a 25-20 mark and went 85-40 at Auburn. Tuberville is 20-17 in three seasons at Texas Tech and has the Red Raiders back on track after a 5-7 mark in 2011. Tuberville isn’t flashy, but he’s a proven winner and a steady option for Tennessee.

More Stories: