Generally, coaching searches have a life cycle:
- Delusion: We can hire Jon Gruden!
- Rationalizing: Chris Petersen will take this job when he’s passed on so many others because…
- Anger: Of course this job is better than Baylor or TCU! Art Briles and/or Gary Patterson is an idiot to not take it.
- Bargaining: Five years, $27.5 million, Les!
- Reality: Bret Bielema is hired.
- Acceptance: Bret Bielema is a damn fine hire.
For as much rumor mongering and general insanity as there was emanating from the Arkansas coaching search — including the same newspaper reporting two contradictory pieces on Mike Gundy — athletic director Jeff Long made good. A football program can’t do much better than hiring a three-time Rose Bowl participant, barring reanimating Bear Bryant.
Should Arkansas’ winning hand, played very close to Long’s chest, give Tennessee fans cause for concern? Probably not. While an SEC rival scored a coaching coup, it does show that a good hire can emerge from an especially wild search.
Arkansas may have had a leg up in that John L. Smith was a temporary replacement, and everything knew it. Arkansas’ long-term solution was sought from the moment Bobby Petrino was fired. But that doesn’t mean Tennessee was completely in the dark before Derek Dooley’s firing last month.
Dooley led a 5-7 debacle in 2011, the culmination of which was a loss to Kentucky. Resentment existed long before Tennessee’s third consecutive 0-5 SEC start under Dooley, before the loss to newcomer Missouri, before the blowout defeat at Vanderbilt. If it walks like a lame duck and quacks like a lame duck…
Dave Hart presumably wasn’t on the sidelines before Dooley’s official dismissal. How close he is to bringing the coaching search cycle full circle for UT remains to be seen.
We’ve had the first step, the aforementioned belief Gruden would leave his post on Monday Night Football based on little beyond his wife attending the university; rationalizing. Tennessee’s search may now be at the anger phase.
Tennessee was rumored to be in the mix for Gundy as well, but allure of T. Boone Pickens’ sweet, sweet cash kept him in Stillwater. Charlie Strong seemed like a viable candidate. He has proven experience as a head coach at Louisville, and lofty credentials in the SEC from his days at Florida.
Strong seems to be the It name of the moment, but Louisville brass recognizes what an asset the university has in him. AD Tom Jurich told Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal “he is willing to make Charlie Strong the nation’s highest-paid college football coach.”
Why Louisville and Oklahoma State over Tennessee? What do those programs offer UT doesn’t?
Strong’s candidacy is still up in the air, but should Jurich make good on his suggestion that the UL head coach be rewarded handsomely for guiding the Cardinals to the Sugar Bowl, Tennessee will enter a bargaining phase. Losing out on two coaches to lucrative extensions might force up the ante on the next target, whether that’s Al Golden, Kirby Smart or another name. A name not yet mentioned in this age of pretend-to-know-while-grasping-at-straws.
Arkansas did it with Bret Bielema. Until the cycle plays out, there’s no reason to assume Tennessee won’t.