The Derek Dooley era at Tennessee is over. Dooley was fired after Saturday's 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt, which dropped his overall record in Knoxville 15-21. Under Dooley's watch, the Volunteers were just 4-19 in SEC play and made only one bowl appearance. Tennessee has fallen behind Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in recent years, so this is an important hire for athletic director Dave Hart.
Who Should Tennessee Hire to Replace Derek Dooley?
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
For just about any job in the SEC, I’d say Louisville’s Charlie Strong should get one of the first calls. After Bobby Petrino left Louisville, the Cardinals were a mess for three years under Steve Kragthorpe. Strong rebuilt a disciplined and tough program over the last three seasons, last week’s loss to Syracuse notwithstanding. Simply put, he knows how to build a quality program. The talent base is better (see: Teddy Bridgewater), the off-field problems have been cleaned up, and the program is back where it was at the end of the Petrino era. Strong is a no-nonsense coach whose not afraid to light into his players with fire and brimstone speeches, as he did early in his tenure with the Cardinals. Given the tumult at Tennessee, Strong's demeanor will be a major asset. And I haven’t even mentioned his decade in the SEC at South Carolina and Florida, where he was the architect of two national championship defenses. But competition is going to be crowded if Strong is going to leave U of L.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
There is a benchmark I would have in my mind if I am a Tennessee fan. The phone log for Dave Hart should read as follows: Chip Kelly, Al Golden, Dan Mullen, Chris Petersen, Jon Gruden, Bobby Petrino, Jimbo Fisher, Gary Patterson and Mike Gundy. Any name "below" that list would feel like a failure on Hart's part. Tennessee will force Gruden to say no (who isn't a sure-fire home run) and Gundy, Kelly, Petersen or Patterson won't be leaving their current employers anytime soon. And Hart's "integrity" statement seems to eliminate Petrino. That leaves Golden, Mullen and Fisher as the best and most viable options. If am a Tennessee fan and either Al Golden or Dan Mullen is coaching in Knoxville next fall, I am ecstatic.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
This is a critical hire for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart. The Volunteers have had too much coaching turnover in recent years, so this hire needs to be one that can bring some stability. Bobby Petrino and Jon Gruden will be tossed around in Knoxville, but I think Tennessee would be wise to go after one of three coaches: San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre, Miami’s Al Golden or Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. I'd also throw Charlie Strong into the mix, but I'm not sure he is ready to leave Louisville. MacIntyre has turned San Jose State from one of the worst teams in college football to a potential 10-win squad in 2012. Golden resurrected Temple’s program and has brought improvement to Miami over the last two years. Mullen is 29-20 in four seasons at Mississippi State and could thrive at a program with a bigger budget and more resources. Tennessee would be in good shape with any of those three, but I’d give Mullen a slight edge over MacIntyre or Golden if I were hiring the next coach.
One of the names you keep hearing to take over in Knoxville is Jon Gruden. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see why Gruden would leave his plush job with ESPN and "Monday Night Football" to return to coaching, unless it's the NFL. It certainly looks like there will be a number of openings on the pro level, so if Gruden has the chance to hand-pick his next pro job, why would he go to the collegiate ranks, where he has a grand total of two seasons of coaching experience, which came as a graduate assistant? No, I think Tennessee is best served by hiring an experienced head coach who has had success at a BCS school. Enter Charlie Strong, who has won at least seven games in all three of his seasons at Louisville and could lead his Cardinals to a Big East title and BCS bowl bid this season. Strong has plenty of experience coaching in the SEC, highlighted by his eight seasons at Florida where he served as defensive coordinator for the Gators' two BCS championship teams, and he has shown that he can recruit and bring in talent like quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at a lesser known, if you will, program like Louisville. Strong has a defensive background, and it's pretty apparent that Tennessee needs all the help it can get there, and he's not going to be intimidated by making the jump to the big bad SEC. Hiring Strong may not "win the press conference," as they say, but I think he will win plenty of games, which is what matters most to Volunteer fans and supporters.
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