Ten­nessee back in fa­mil­iar spot with job search

The Times-Tribune - - College Sports - BY STEVE MEGARGEE

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ten­nessee has just launched its fourth coach­ing search since its last South­east­ern Con­fer­ence East­ern Di­vi­sion ti­tle.

So that comes to four coaches in a 10-year span.

Lane Kif­fin, Derek Doo­ley and now Butch Jones. That trio couldn’t re­ju­ve­nate a pro­gram that hasn’t won a di­vi­sion since 2007 and hasn’t cap­tured a con­fer­ence ti­tle since its 1998 na­tional cham­pi­onship sea­son.

But ath­letic di­rec­tor John Cur­rie is look­ing at the glass be­ing half full.

“This is a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity,” Cur­rie said at the news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the fir­ing of Jones . “If you look out at the realm of col­lege ath­let­ics, cer­tainly the kind of turnover we’ve had is not op­ti­mal. But at the same time, with a cou­ple ex­cep­tions, the old day of hav­ing some­body for 15 or 20 or 30 years doesn’t re­ally ex­ist any­more.”

Ten­nessee had that kind of sta­bil­ity with Phillip Ful­mer, who was forced out in 2008. Ten­nessee’s been search­ing for it ever since.

Kif­fin re­placed Ful­mer and stayed only one year be­fore leav­ing for South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Doo­ley was fired af­ter three straight los­ing sea­sons. Jones lasted nearly five full sea­sons and led Ten­nessee to three straight bowl vic­to­ries be­fore ev­ery­thing fell apart this year.

Ten­nessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC) is at risk of go­ing win­less in SEC com­pe­ti­tion for the first time and en­dur­ing its first eight­loss sea­son in school his­tory. The Vol­un­teers host No. 21 LSU (7-3, 4-2) on Satur­day and Van­der­bilt (4-6, 0-6) on Nov. 25.

That leaves Jones’ suc­ces­sor with quite a chal­lenge in re­turn­ing Ten­nessee to SEC con­tention. Cur­rie said he doesn’t plan to hire a search firm to as­sist him “at this time.”

Al­though Jones signed four straight top-20 re­cruit­ing classes — in­clud­ing two that ranked in the top 10 — SEC Net­work an­a­lyst and for­mer Auburn coach Gene Chizik sees a ma­jor tal­ent dis­par­ity sep­a­rat­ing the Vols from their top SEC ri­vals.

“When you have to beat Alabama and have to beat Florida and have to beat Georgia, the bot­tom line is you’ve got to have the same guys, and I don’t see that (from Ten­nessee) right now,” Chizik said. “I don’t think there’s any ques­tion there’s a tal­ent gap.”

Chizik said it’s im­por­tant to find a coach with Power Five ex­pe­ri­ence who un­der­stands the pres­sures that come with these types of jobs. Jones had never been a head coach or as­sis­tant at a Power Five school be­fore Ten­nessee hired him. Doo­ley’s only Power Five ex­pe­ri­ence was as an as­sis­tant.

CBS an­a­lyst Rick Neuheisel, a for­mer coach at Colorado and UCLA, said the new coach must up­grade Ten­nessee’s por­ous run de­fense and make sure his of­fense fits the tal­ent of his quar­ter­back.

Cur­rie can’t af­ford to take his time be­cause other SEC schools also are seek­ing coaches and could end up pur­su­ing the same can­di­dates. Florida parted ways with Jim McEl­wain, Mis­sis­sippi hasn’t an­nounced whether it plans to keep in­terim coach Matt Luke, and the fates of Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sum­lin re­main un­cer­tain.

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