KNOXVILLE – Tennessee is entering Week No. 2 of its coaching search after former coach Derek Dooley was dismissed last Sunday.
Though a mid-December hire is the mostly likely scenario at this point, the process could speed up this week with several candidates now through their regular season.
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?
Update: The reports have been all over the place on Gruden. Some have called him the leading candidate, while others have said he’s no longer being considered. However, our stance that he is a candidate who is still interested hasn’t changed.
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 23-14 overall record, include a 9-2 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 and Auburn) 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.
Update: Strong laughed off a question about Tennessee recently. His stock has seen a minor drop with consecutive losses to Syracuse and Connecticut.
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 XII, so he might feel content to stay with the Horned Frogs.
Update: The Horned Frogs are 7-4 this year, but an upset win over Texas on Thursday showed that Patterson's transition to the Big XII is going smoothly.
Al Golden (head coach, Miami)
Quick bio: Golden played tight end at Penn State and with New England Patriots before breaking into coaching. He worked his way through the ranks before landing his first head-coaching gig at Temple in 2006. The Owls were 3-31 in the three years before he was hired, but by 2010 he led them to an 8-4 season. He took over as the head coach at Miami in 2011 and has posted a 13-11 record in two seasons.
Why: The way he turned Temple around was one of the most impressive things in college football in recent history. He’s done all he can despite dealing with NCAA issues in Miami.
Why not: He’s been at Miami for only two seasons and has said he’s committed to getting the program through its current NCAA problems. He’s been dealt a tough hand at Miami, but his overall record won’t thrill some at UT.
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.
Update: Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel that he is happy at Florida State. But would a raise and a chance to coach in the SEC make him happier?
Jim Mora, Jr. (head coach UCLA)
Quick bio: The son of former NFL head coach Jim Mora is a two-time NFL head coach (Seattle and Atlanta) himself who has made the most of his first season coaching UCLA this year, leading the Bruins to a 9-3 record.
Why: He’s done a great job turning around a program that was 6-8 last year. He has a wealth of NFL experience, but is still young enough (52) to be an energetic recruiter.
Why not: Other than his three-year stint as the head coach of the Falcons, he doesn’t have a lot of experience coaching in the Southeast. He was a mediocre NFL head coach at best with a 32-34 overall record and only one division title in four years.
Bob Stoops (head coach, Oklahoma)
Quick bio: Stoops made his name as the defensive coordinator at Florida from 1996-98 before taking the head-coaching job at Oklahoma in 1999. He’s had a fantastic run with the Sooners, compiling a 148-36 record to go along with seven Big 12 Championships and one national title (2000).
Why: Stoops fits every criteria laid out by Hart. He has SEC experience and is a proven head coach and recruiter.
Why not: He makes approximately $4.5 million at Oklahoma and has built the Sooners into a perennial power in college football. It would take quite an offer, or some degree of discontent with Oklahoma, to lure him away from the program he’s built there.
Others to watch: Mike Gundy (head coach, Oklahoma State), Larry Fedora (head coach, North Carolina), Dan Mullen (head coach, Mississippi State), Bobby Petrino (unemployed, former head coach at Louisville, the Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas), Tommy Tuberville (head coach, Texas Tech), James Franklin (head coach, Vanderbilt), Chad Morris (offensive coordinator, Clemson) Doug Marrone (head coach, Syracuse), 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.