Tennessee is the best available job in the SEC, and athletic director Dave Hart is under the gun to expedite the coaching search and make the right hire.
To the common SEC fan, Tennessee may be an underwhelming job in its current state, but with the facilities, financial backing and winning tradition, the Vols’ coaching job is borderline elite.
The Tennessee job may not carry as much weight as it used to, but as long as Tennessee makes the right hire, winning will return to Knoxville. It’s too good of a place not to win, and it should be a destination job for an elite coach.
Many Vol fans are negative towards the program as a whole, and the only one coach who will make everyone happy is Jon Gruden. But Gruden is a long shot, despite the crazy report of partial ownership of the Cleveland Browns, and the fan base will undoubtedly be mixed over the next hire unless Gruden mania becomes reality in Knoxville.
But whether it’s Gruden or even an up-and-coming coach, there’s a major rebuilding job set to take place, not only on the roster but with the fan base, too.
If it’s any consolation at all, Tennessee can point to a program – the anti-SEC program – in Notre Dame that went through similar struggles under Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. From 1997 to 2009, the Irish were borderline irrelevant in the national picture. They went from the most storied tradition in all of college football to the punch line of nearly every joke in the country.
While Tennessee will never be considered Notre Dame as far as tradition, the Vols’ program has virtually gone through the same downfall from the latter portion of Phillip Fulmer’s years to the Lane Kiffin saga and, now, the Derek Dooley underwhelming era. From 2005 to 2012, the Vols are a combined 52-48 overall and 26-38 in the SEC. Tennessee has finished over .500 just one out of the last five seasons. For a team with six national championships and 16 conference titles, it’s completely unacceptable.
This Irish team, led by head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, has been totally rebuilt and is now one of the top defenses in the country. Kelly has engineered a remarkable turnaround all the way from picking up the excess blubber left by Charlie Weis to the national championship game in 2012. Kelly is known as an offensive coach, but it’s been the defense that has propelled this team to win 12 games, not the offense. This Notre Dame team is built like an SEC team: great defensive play, field position, special teams-bustin’ and a non-flashy offense. Sounds like another SEC team that has engineered a great turnaround in 2012.
Over Kelly’s tenure starting in 2010, Notre Dame won eight games in each of his first two seasons, and we’ve seen the defense progressively improve.
- 2009: No. 63 in scoring defense (25.9 points per game), No. 83 in total defense, 6.19 yards per play
- 2010: No. 23 in scoring defense (20.2 points per game), No. 51 in total defense, 5.15 yards per play
- 2011: No. 24 in scoring defense (20.7 points per game), No. 30 in total defense, 5.05 yards per play
- 2012: No. 2 in scoring defense (10.3 points per play), No. 6 in total defense, 4.55 yards per play
Can the Vols hire a coach and replicate such a massive turnaround? Of course, but the program has to be rebuilt, starting on the defensive side of the football. Kelly did it in three years, but he didn’t have to play Alabama, Florida, Georgia or South Carolina every year, either.
Tennessee was one of the worst defenses in all of college football – 112th to be exact – in 2012 and will require a massive intake of more impact players in the front seven. There is a nucleus of young talent on campus, particularly at linebacker, to help take this group to another level. Players like AJ Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Brian Randolph will be instrumental in helping expedite this process.
In recent years, Tennessee has lacked a mobile quarterback. They’ve usually had a traditional pocket passer, outside of the Brent Schaeffer experiment. It doesn’t only take a 6-6 pocket passer with a rocket arm and two future NFL wide receivers to win championships. But it does require a quarterback who can make some plays with his legs, similar to Everett Golson, who is a headsy player much different than Tyler Bray, and it requires a running game and good special teams play, something Tennessee hasn’t had over the last few years.
No, Notre Dame doesn’t play in the SEC and they don’t win pretty, but they’re another example of how defense wins championships. Tennessee can be rebuilt, but it will take the right coach and possibly a minimum of four to five years to change the culture of the program.
Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE