KNOXVILLE – A look at some of Tennessee’s top options as the Vols set out to replace coach Derek Dooley, who was fired on Sunday morning:
Jon Gruden (ESPN analyst)
Quick bio: Gruden is currently an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. He previously was the head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08) and the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001). He won Super Bowl XXVII with the Buccaneers in 2003.
Why: He started his career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee (1986-87) and is married to a UT alum. He’s been out of coaching since 2008, but is reportedly looking to get back in. CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora has reported that the Vols and Arkansas are among the teams bidding for him. He’s charismatic, famous and a Super Bowl winning coach.
Why not: Does he want to come? He’s been approached by college and pro teams in the past, but has remained in the broadcast booth. He would command a huge salary – perhaps the largest in college football. Some speculate as high as $5 million a year. Does Tennessee have that money after paying a huge buyout to former coach Derek Dooley?
Charlie Strong (head coach, Louisville)
Quick bio: Strong was known as one of the top defensive coordinators in the SEC after stints at that position with South Carolina (1999-2001) and Florida (2002-09). He took over as Louisville’s head coach in 2010 and has a 23-13 overall record, include a 9-1 mark thus far in 2012.
Why: He’s a strong recruiter with ample experience in the SEC and in the southeastern region in general. He’s built Louisville into one of the top programs in the Big East in three years.
Why not: There aren’t a ton of negatives on Strong, but others (Arkansas) will be coming for him, too. Louisville’s AD has vowed to match any offer for him. Three years of head coaching experience isn’t a ton.
Gary Patterson (head coach, TCU)
Quick bio: He’s one of the winningest active coaches in college football with a 115-34 record, including a 7-4 mark in bowls. He has a defensive background and worked his way up after stops as an assistant at Utah State, Navy and New Mexico. He was hired as defensive coordinator at TCU in 1998 and took the head-coaching job there in 2000.
Why: He’s a winner who has proven he can build a program. His defensive background would be perfect to help fix the Vols’ disastrous 2012 defense.
Why not: He’s turned down offers before. TCU has successfully transitioned from the Mountain West to the Big 12, so he might feel content to stay with the Horned Frogs.
Chris Petersen (head coach, Boise State)
Quick bio: He’s won 91 percent of his games since taking over has the head coach at Boise State in 2006. He’s considered one of the top offensive minds in college football and has built one of the most respected programs in the nation.
Why: His contract (around $2 million a year) is decent, but something Tennessee could easily top. His record speaks for itself. His offense would give the Vols a schematic advantage they haven’t had in years.
Why not: He seems content to stay in Boise regardless of who wants him. He enjoys the area and has a consistent winning program built. He’s worked almost exclusively on the West Coast and would have to adjust to recruiting in the SEC.
Dan Mullen (head coach, Mississippi State)
Quick bio: He worked his way up as the right-hand man to Urban Meyer at Utah and Florida. Mullen ran powerful offenses at every stop he and Meyer made. He got his first head-coaching job at Mississippi State in 2009. He has a 29-20 record and has built the Bulldogs much closer to a contending team than many of his predecessors.
Why: He knows the SEC and has shown he can build a program inside of it. He’s a good recruiter and a great offensive mind.
Why not: Mississippi State has improved, but the Bulldogs are still a few steps behind Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the SEC West. He hadn’t beat a team in the SEC West other than Ole Miss until his third season. He’s proven to be a good coach, not a great one yet.
Gus Malzahn (head coach, Arkansas State)
Quick bio: He became a high school coaching legend in the state of Arkansas before being hired as the offensive coordinator for the University of Arkansas. He held the same position at Tulsa and then moved on to run Auburn’s offense in its national championship season in 2010. He left the Tigers to become the head coach at Arkansas State in 2012.
Why: He’s considered one of the top offensive minds nationally and Auburn has sorely missed him this season. After a slow start to the season, his Arkansas State team has won six straight games.
Why not: He has only one year of head-coaching experience at the college level. His 2010 offense at Auburn was fantastic, but how much of that had to do with having Cam Newton as his quarterback?
Kirby Smart (defensive coordinator, Alabama)
Quick bio: Smart had stints as an assistant at LSU, Georgia and with the Miami Dolphins before being hired as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007.
Why: Alabama has been the premiere defense nationally during his tenure. He’s young, energetic and knows the SEC.
Why not: Does his bio sound a little familiar? Like Dooley, he’s been under Saban for much of his career. He’s the defensive coordinator in name, but anybody that spends time around Alabama knows that Saban is the one truly running the D in Tuscaloosa.
Jimbo Fisher (head coach, Florida State)
Quick bio: Fisher got his first major job as the offensive coordinator at LSU in 2000. He left in 2006 to take the same job at Florida State and was made the head-coach-in-waiting to then coach Bobby Bowden in 2007. He took over for Bowden in 2010 and has a 29-9 record.
Why: He was at Florida State at the same time current Tennessee AD Dave Hart was the AD for the Seminoles. He’s a proven winner and recruiter who also knows the SEC.
Why not: He’s already coaching a powerhouse that is situated in fertile recruiting ground. Most would view Florida State as a destination job, so it might not be easy to pull him away for a rebuilding effort at Tennessee.
Others to watch: Bobby Petrino (unemployed, former head coach at Louisville, the Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas) Al Golden (head coach, Miami), Bob Stoops (head coach, Oklahoma), Tommy Tuberville (head coach, Texas Tech), James Franklin (head coach, Vanderbilt), Chad Morris (offensive coordinator, Clemson), David Cutcliffe (head coach, Duke), Doug Marrone (head coach, Syracuse), Jim Mora Jr. (head coach, UCLA), Pat Fitzgerald (head coach, Northwestern), Butch Jones (head coach, Cincinnati), Mark Dantonio (head coach, Michigan State), Sonny Dykes (head coach, Louisiana Tech), Dave Dorean (head coach, Northern Illinois), Mike MacIntyre (head coach, San Jose State)
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.