STILLWATER, Okla. — Will Mike Gundy be the next head coach at the University of Tennessee? He’s going to sleep on it.
The Vols will have to wait until Wednesday to learn if their coaching search is over or if they must strike another name from their list and limp ahead, as Tuesday came and went without a decision by the Oklahoma State head coach.
Tennessee officials met with Gundy in Dallas on Tuesday, where they reportedly offered him enough money — one report was as high as $8.4 million — to place him among the SEC’s highest-paid coaches. But Gundy appeared to be in no rush to make a decision, and UT athletics director John Currie did not expect to have an answer before Wednesday.
While Gundy’s delay feels remarkably like a repeat of 2012, when Tennessee made an offer to then-Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, only to learn the next day that he was going to stay with the Cardinals, there don’t appear to be too many similarities with UT’s pursuit of Gundy in 2012.
After Strong said no that year, former Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart flew to Stillwater to interview Gundy in Gundy’s home. However, Gundy ultimately turned down the Vols’ offer, and it was widely regarded that he had used the interview as leverage to convince Oklahoma State officials to increase his salary.
As news broke late Monday that Tennessee was pursuing Gundy, some UT fans openly expressed fears that Gundy was again using the Vols to pursue more money from the Cowboys. That seems unlikely this time around, though. Gundy was given a contract extension and a raise just prior to the 2017 season. He now makes $4.2 million per year, with an automatic raise of $125,000 each year.
Instead, it appears that Gundy is serious about leaving his alma mater this time around. It was reported Tuesday that he rejected an offer from Florida before the Gators began their pursuit of Dan Mullen, and it is well known that he listened to overtures from Baylor after last season.
In Stillwater, some Oklahoma State fans are growing weary of Gundy’s willingness to entertain courtships from other schools. Still other fans feel that he has plateaued with the Cowboys.
That seems to be the biggest reason why Gundy might finally be ready to coach somewhere other than Oklahoma State. His 2011 team finished 12-1 and was the nation’s third-ranked team. But he has not been able to replicate that success with the Cowboys. He won 10 regular season games in 2012 and 2015, and got to 10 wins with a bowl victory in 2016. His 2017 team finished the regular season with a record of 9-3. Along the way, there was a 7-5 regular season finish in 2012, and a 6-6 regular season finish in 2016. At age 50, Gundy isn’t getting any younger. If he is to reach the next level, it might have to be somewhere other than Oklahoma State.
Nonetheless, Stillwater is where Gundy’s heart is, and it seems to be a long shot that Tennessee is able to lure him away. Gundy is an Oklahoma native, played quarterback for the Cowboys in the late 1980s and began his coaching career there. After leaving briefly in the late 1990s, Gundy returned to Stillwater as Les Miles’ offensive coordinator in 2001, and took over as head coach after Miles left for LSU four years later.
Gundy is Oklahoma State’s all-time winningest coach, with a career record of 113-53. After a 4-7 debut season in 2006, he has led the Cowboys to 11 consecutive bowl games. That number will become 12 when bowl invitations are handed out this weekend.
Interestingly, reports emerged on Tuesday that Tennessee was interested in Gundy even before Sunday’s disastrous flirtation with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. ESPN’s Chris Low first reported Tuesday that Peyton Manning first talked to Gundy last week, and that Gundy was impressed by the former quarterback’s spiel.
It’s unclear how Tennessee went from making connection with Gundy to attempting to hire Schiano. Few people would rank Schiano — who had success at Rutgers but flamed out as a head coach after just two seasons in the NFL — as a better candidate than Gundy. As CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee tweeted Tuesday evening, “Tennessee ending up with Mike Gundy after trying to hire Greg Schiano would be like ordering tofu and ending up with a bone-in ribeye.”
Yet Tennessee was on the verge of hiring Schiano on Sunday, after Currie made the trip to Columbus, to the point that both Currie and Schiano signed a memorandum of understanding. Word leaked out, though, and the backlash from UT fans was severe, eventually forcing Currie to back out of the deal in an unprecedented turn of events.
By late Monday, not quite 24 hours after the Schiano deal collapsed, it was clear that Tennessee was in pursuit of Gundy.
As they await their answer from Gundy, Tennessee officials are preparing to move forward with their search, in the event that the answer is “no.” Tennessee spoke to Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele by phone on Tuesday, sources said, and appears to have also reached out to Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm and NC State head coach Dave Dorean. UT has also vetted former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Sources tell AllThingsVol that former Vol quarterback Tee Martin — who is currently the offensive coordinator at Southern Cal — is not a candidate for the Tennessee job. Nor does former UT coach Lane Kiffin, now at Florida Atlantic, seem to be a candidate. The Vols reached out to Duke’s David Cutcliffe on Monday. But Cutcliffe, who served two stints as offensive coordinator on Phillip Fulmer’s Tennessee staff, wants to close out his career with the Blue Devils.