Twelve hours after being spurned by Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Tennessee’s coaching search — now in its 17th day — moves forward on Wednesday, even though it’s not immediately clear where the Vols will turn next.
Gundy tweeted late Tuesday evening that he is a “Cowboy for life,” signaling an end to his courtship with Tennessee and leaving an offer on the table that was worth a reported $42 million over five years, which would have made him the SEC’s second-highest paid coach.
It was always a long shot that Tennessee would land Gundy. The Oklahoma native played quarterback at Oklahoma State in the late 1980s and has spent all but five years of his coaching career in Stillwater, where he is the Cowboys’ all-time winningest coach.
Nevertheless, it was a risk that UT athletics director John Currie deemed worthy, and the Vols interviewed Gundy in Dallas on Tuesday, coinciding with a recruiting trip that Gundy was taking to the Lonestar State.
With the Gundy courtship over, UT appears to have exhausted all of its top-tier candidates and is set to move to the next set, which includes SMU’s Chad Morris, NC State’s Dave Doeren and Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
College football insider Bruce Feldman reported Wednesday morning that Tennessee has not interviewed Morris, conflicting reports from Knoxville media that Currie had interviewed Morris on Tuesday. At the very least, it seems that Tennessee has contacted Morris to gauge his interest in the job.
Feldman also reported that Currie is “intrigued” by Washington State’s colorful head coach, Mike Leach, but is put off by the fact that Leach sued Texas Tech after being fired by the Red Raiders.
Interestingly, there is little buzz surrounding Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, who was once considered to be a candidate for some of college football’s biggest coaching vacancies this season. From a speculation standpoint, there may be belief that Brohm will be reluctant to leave the Boilermakers after just one season.
Meanwhile, Tennessee fans are clamoring for Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who won a national championship as Tennessee’s quarterback in 1998. But AllThingsVol is told that Martin is not a candidate for the job. Likewise, a growing segment of the UT fan base is coalescing behind a movement to bring back Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin, who replaced Phillip Fulmer after the 2008 season but bolted for Southern Cal a year later. As is the case with Martin, Kiffin is not currently a candidate.
In the midst of it all, several prominent boosters continue to work behind the scenes in an effort to have Currie ousted, even before the search has been completed. The first-year athletics director’s decision to not use a search firm has blown up in his face, and Sunday’s Greg Schiano fiasco has soured even many of his supporters. Tennessee was set to make the Ohio State defensive coordinator its 24th head coach before fans rebelled on social media, forcing Currie to pull the deal off the table.
Three days later, Tennessee’s options appear to be running thin. A coaching search that was running so secretively — and, by all appearances, smoothly — just a few days ago has largely gone off the tracks, and each misstep seems to be decreasing the likelihood that a proven head coach will make the move to Knoxville.