Tennessee’s most recent coaching search has an ominous — yet familiar — feeling.
As the Vols look for an offensive coordinator it seems unlikely that they will get their top choice as each day passes. That sounds like UT’s past three forays into trying to find a head coach. It’s not hard to target a top choice. It’s hard to hire one.
Auburn’s Chip Lindsey is the first coveted candidate that is officially off the table. Lindsey will join his old friend, Les Miles, at Kansas. It’s unclear if Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was ever truly interested in Lindsey, although he reportedly was interviewed. If so, Pruitt should have probably moved quicker. The marriage would have made plenty of sense. The two have known each other for years and Lindsey was one of the first coaches that Pruitt reached out to.
Choosing Kansas over Tennessee wouldn’t make much sense on the surface until you dig a little deeper. Miles seems like a much easier boss to work for than Pruitt and coaching the Jayhawks won’t be anything like coaching the Vols. There will be much less pressure.
Pruitt’s presence must be considered by any coach that is considering running UT’s offense. Pruitt wants a tough, physical offense to complement his tough, physical defense. That sounds good, but the Vols just don’t have that sort of personnel to make that happen. For now, the Vols need to out-scheme teams to make up for the shortcomings on their roster. Pruitt wasn’t willing to allow that to happen last season. Pruitt could often be seen holding the offensive play chart on the sidelines when UT had the ball. There’s little question that he took over the direction of the offense late in the season. That won’t help Pruitt find a successor for Tyson Helton, who was hired as the head coach at Western Kentucky.
The above will be a hindrance as Pruitt looks for his next offensive coordinator. Coaches talk and the coaching community has to be well aware that Pruitt has already shown a tendency to meddle with an offense if it isn’t going his way. Was Lindsey aware of that when he selected Kansas over Tennessee? Almost assuredly, yes.
Now the Vols could turn to Hugh Freeze. This is where it seems eerily like UT’s coaching search that ended up with Pruitt. Remember when Tennessee settled on Greg Schiano and its fan base exploded over Schiano’s extremely weak connection to the Penn State scandal. There’s no proof that Schiano did anything wrong. There is proof that Freeze called escorts during recruiting trips. If Pruitt settles on Freeze, there’s no guarantee that UT’s administration would approve that hire. That wouldn’t sit well with Pruitt.
Moreover, there will be much more competition for Freeze. Florida State reportedly is interested in him as an OC. Liberty needs to hire a head coach. He could go to Auburn, where he’s good friends with Gus Malzahn. Freeze could go to Alabama if Mike Locksley gets the head coaching job at Maryland.
The worst-case scenario is that Freeze goes to Auburn, Locksley goes to Maryland and Alabama quarterback coach Dan Enos stays at Alabama to become the offensive coordinator. Enos is also another viable candidate for the Vols. And as usual, the Vols would just keep crossing coaching candidates off the list.
Two important decisions must be made by those in power at Tennessee. First, Pruitt has to decide what he would be comfortable with. Is he willing to hand over his offense to an innovative coach or would he rather play things closer to the vest?
The UT administration also must make an important decision. Do they look the other way when it comes to hiring coaches with questionable conduct and NCAA decisions in their past?
Those decisions need to be made quickly. If they’re not, the Vols could see themselves losing out on a handful of candidates, which has almost become a Tennessee tradition.