Zook’s offensive coordinator looks to be the guy

Larry Fedora has led North Carolina to an 8-4 season in his first season as a Tar Heel, leading some to question whether he will leave after just one year.

Larry Fedora has led North Carolina to an 8-4 season in his first season as a Tar Heel, leading some to question whether he will leave after just one year. (Image Courtesy of UNC Athletics)

Tennessee fans are familiar with Ron Zook.

The Big Orange faithful last saw their Vols defeat the Florida Gators under Zook’s tenure in 2003 and 2004.

However, a name most Tennesseans probably won’t recognize from the Florida Gator’s staff under Zook is associated with the opening for the head coaching job at the University of Tennessee.

And no, I’m not talking about Charlie Strong – head coach at Louisville and former defensive coordinator at UF.

The name that I fully expect to be named as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers is former Gators assistant, Larry Fedora.

Fedora served as the run game coordinator in 2002, the passing game coordinator in 2003 and the offensive coordinator in 2004 for Florida.

Under his command in Zook’s final season as head coach, Fedora led the Gators offense to a combined 372 points on the season with his play calling.

For comparison sakes, UT’s high octane offense this season combined for 434 points.

But you may ask what Fedora has been up to since 2004 and why Dave Hart would want to hire him, and I’m going to answer both.

Fedora was hired in 2008 as head coach of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, following a three year stint in Stillwater, Okla. as the offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Following a 4-7 season in year 1, the Cowboys improved to win seven games each of the next two years – including a victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2006 Independence Bowl.

Upon arrival to Southern Miss, Fedora posted four consecutive winning seasons for a combined 34-19, 20-12 record. In his final season with the Golden Eagles, Fedora led his program to a 12-2 record, with both losses coming by a combined nine points.

The coach was hired last year to replace interim Tar Heels head coach Everett Withers, who filled in the 2011 season for NCAA-plagued Butch Davis, at the University of North Carolina. Fedora’s squad tied for first in the ACC Coastal division with an 8-4 record, with three of the four losses by nine total points.

Larry Fedora has five years of head coaching experience for a 42-23 record. (Image courtesy of Gulflive.com)

Larry Fedora has five years of head coaching experience for a 42-23 overall record. (Image courtesy of Gulflive.com)

With experience in Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina and the state of Tennessee – with a three year stint at MTSU as Offensive Coordinator from 1999 to 2001 – in college football recruiting, Fedora understands not only the Southeastern Conference, but also the importance of recruiting for the Vols and their need to recruit outside the state.

The Tar Heels 2013 recruiting class currently ranks 20th on Rivals, compared to the Vols at No. 26, and his 2012 class ranked 44th after beginning his duties as the Tar Heels head coach just a month before national signing day.

As a Golden Eagle, Fedora landed a Rivals five star player in his initial class that ranked 37th in the nation. Each of his next two classes ranked No. 53 in their respective years without the high profile addition of a five star.

Assistant coaching changes hurt Fedora’s final class, which marked a career low for the head coach at No. 85 in the nation.

Born and raised in Texas, Fedora’s playing career, and first three jobs in football were held in the Longhorn State, which the Vols have tried to recruit with minimal success.

In combination with recruiting, Fedora’s offensive prowess could help Tennessee maintain its high octane scoring machine.

If named the Vols coach, and with big names like Stoops, Fisher and Gruden reportedly all giving no-go signals to the Vols it is seeming more and more likely, Fedora’s first order of business will need to be fixing a defense. Could a certain unemployed former head coach, recruiting star and defensive guru in Zook be the guy for the job?

With North Carolina’s season over, Vol fans could see an announcement as early as next week. Based on how the search is going, don’t be surprised if Fedora is your guy.

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Big names are what Vol fans want to hear

Unfair or not, for the next head coach of the Tennessee Vols, if his name is not Jon Gruden, he will not be given a fair shot by some fans. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Members of Vol Nation were awakened by buzzing phones full of twitter alerts and text messages Tuesday evening.

The commotion caused by Memphis’ WREG News Channel 3 sports team – which announced that everyone’s favorite candidate, Jon Gruden, had an offer in hand to become head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers that also included a partial stake in the ownership of the Cleveland Browns – was welcome to a fan base plagued by bad news and terrible circumstances over the past five years.

However, the announcement was met quickly with Gruden himself denying the report on “ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning” show on Wednesday. Which was followed up a few hours later with this report.

We all know coaches lie. A few short years ago, 72 hours before he took the job, Nick Saban said he would not be the next head coach at the University of Alabama.

But that is beside the point, which is that even if Gruden is not going to be the next head coach for Tennessee, Vol fans want – and it could be argued need – to hear big names for the sake of their sanity, the program and for the University of Tennessee.

The program needs the hire because more instability will lead to further decline in season ticket sales, fan base passion and donations from private donors. That in turn affects the University which until a few days ago received money from the athletic department to help fund efforts like scholarships and fellowships.

But lets focus on the commoners of the world instead of the donors, such as Pilot/Flying J Travel Center owner Jim Haslam, son and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and the other big dollar donation families.

Tennessee fans have taken to the message boards, social media, YouTube and any other forum that allows them to share their voice demanding that Gruden be hired.

But why him is the question that a lot of outsiders may be asking. The reasons are there – thin ties to the program and a plot of land 45 minutes outside of Knoxville – but it is more than just a few simple reasons. It’s more than just a single man.

Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher has emerged as another potential “name candidate” despite denials of any interest in other jobs from the man in Tallahassee. (Image courtesy of Florida State Athletics)

The Volunteer faithful want to believe that their program is the best in the entire world. With all of their hearts, the fans who don the Orange and the White want to know that they are on top of the college world.

Forget the other UT, the forsaken school down south with 14 national titles, Urban Meyer’s new team or his old one.

To the people who pledge their allegiance to the program located on Rocky Top, there is nothing better.

In order to justify this, the nation’s top football coaches must be sought after because, to them, no one wants to turn the job down.

With some of the fanatical fan base finally beginning to move on from the lure of the ESPN Monday Night Football commentator, two names have emerged as potential big hires – Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.

At 47 years of age, Fisher is finishing up his third year as head coach of the Seminoles and boasts a 29-10 overall, 18-6 in ACC record headed into Saturday’s ACC Championship game.

Boasting experience in Baton Rouge under Nick Saban and time spent on the Plains under Terry Bowden, Fisher’s familiarity with the SEC and nationally recognized recruiting prowess are things that Vol fans can get behind.

The West Virginia native is rumored to be unhappy that his 10-1 Seminoles were ranked behind two 9-2 teams from the SEC heading into the final weekend of the season. Fisher wants a national title and, according to reports, does not know if the ACC gives him the best opportunity to get said title.

Before arriving in Norman, Bob Stoops previously coached under Steve Spurrier in Gainesville, Fla. as the defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

But with a top-level job and a good thing going in the Sunshine State, the actuality of Fisher’s willingness to listen still remains to be seen.

The same could be said for Stoops, who is currently sitting on a 148-36 overall record for the Sooners.

The Ohio native is attractive to Tennessee fans with a national title under his belt, seven conference championships and only five home losses since he took over the Big 12 program in 1999.

Stoops record speaks for itself, so why would he leave the program he built you may ask.

Like his mentor, Spurrier, sometimes a coach comes to the realization that he has built the fans’ expectations too high – some in Norman are not happy with 10 win seasons and BCS bowls anymore.

Having reportedly spoken with the Head Ball Coach, Stoops may be looking to restart his coaching clock somewhere else – which could also bring a renewed passion that could help to improve his already excellent stats.

Both Stoops and Fisher bring name recognition and success, and with the $ 18 million recently freed up by UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, Vol fans want name recognition and success.

Tennessee fans do not want to spend sub $ 2 million and get a coach from a non BCS conference school with a sub .500 record.

So the only question that remains is this: What does Dave Hart want?


Jon Gruden, pipe dream or home run hire?

Jon Gruden, second from left, is a current Monday Night Football analyst on ESPN and has not been in coaching since his firing as Tampa Bay’s head coach in January 2009. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Vol fans have heard the name and the reasons for years.

Jon Gruden owns property in Jefferson County.

Jon Gruden coached here in the 80’s.

Jon Gruden’s in-laws live here.

Jon Gruden met his wife here, while she was a cheerleader for the Vols.

Jon Gruden is itching to get back into coaching.

Gruden, Gruden, Gruden.

So the question is – Do the Vols have the chance to make what many label as a home run hire or are the Vols focusing on what some consider to be a pipe dream?

The answer to both is yes.

The former Super Bowl winning coach, who also posts a 95-81 overall NFL head coaching record, would be interested in the Vols if the conditions are right.

Gruden recently signed a five year extension with ESPN’s Monday Night Football, maintains a national presence in endorsement deals for company’s like Hooters, and works in an environment that is only demanding for a few months of the year. Rumored to make close to $6 million dollars annually through all of those deals, Gruden would require a large sum of funding not just for him, but for the coaching staff he wishes to acquire.

With names such as Rich Bisaccia, Raheem Morris, Jay Gruden, Ron Zook, and Tee Martin being tossed around as potential assistants Gruden has contacted in regards to joining a future staff, money will be needed to fund this high profile staff.

UT recently freed up$18 million dollars to add onto any donations that the athletic department receives, but will it be enough?

Gruden will also demand power. Having been in the NFL for years, Gruden has no experience with the 20-hour practice rule, NCAA violations and staff limitations imposed on Division-1 football programs. Will he be willing to fit into the ever tightening rules that the NCAA enforces?

The Vol faithful have heard the name and are making their opinion heard on message boards, talk radio and viral youtube videos. The Tennessee Vols want Jon Gruden and they don’t want to hear no for an answer. But what does athletic director Dave Hart want?

That is the multi-million dollar question.

Will Hart risk this career defining hire on a guy with national attention, but so much risk when it comes to the details of the college game?

That remains to be seen.


Cheek gives details on AD’s financial situation

Chancellor Jimmy Cheek issued a statement Tuesday addressing some of the details of the athletic department’s financial situation as it enters its third coaching search since 2008.

Following an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel that seeming contradicted athletic director Dave Hart’s statement Sunday that the Vols and UT have agreed that finances shouldn’t be an issue in the coaching search, chancellor Jimmy Cheek issued a statement giving the details of at least part of how UT plans to help fund the football team’s new boss.

“For the next three years, the money the athletics department has contributed to the campus will be reinvested in the athletics department,” Cheek wrote Tuesday. “Relieving athletics of this commitment will allow the department to add an average of $6 million per year to its bottom line for a total of $18 million over three years.”

This money has been used by the University to fund scholarships and fellowships. Cheek says that he will seek private gifts to fund these commitments, and that none of the University’s current academic commitments will go unfunded.

The athletic department is currently sitting on a $1.9 million reserve, while most SEC programs have on average $50-100 million. With $5 million due to Derek Dooley for his contract buyout, and up to $4.3 million more due to assistant coaches if the entire staff is let go, Dave Hart’s department is in a financial bind as they seek to finance a new coach.

“We are in a tough position financially,” Hart said during Sunday’s press conference. “The Chancellor doesn’t want us to be at a competitive disadvantage of any nature whether it be financial, or academic or in any other arena where we are trying to compete and get back into the top of that pyramid. We are in a tenuous position, at a crossroads with our athletics program. But, we have people who understand that and are committed to helping us overcome those obstacles.”

Private donations will be made, surely some already have, but the influx of cash from the University sets Hart up to make a “big splash” hire, one that he hopes will right the ship and produce an inflow of cash for his department in the coming years.

With only thirteen coaches currently paid over $3 million a year, the Vols don’t necessarily have to pay the next guy a dump truck load of money, but the team does need to pay for a coach that has a proven record of winning and they need to be willing to pay whatever that guy is worth.

Nick Saban’s salary of $5.316 million has been paid in full with cash earned by the program’s success.

Dave Hart knows this and should replicate the model here at UT.

Especially with three perspective candidates on that list of 13 and four current SEC coaches.


Dave Dismisses Dooley, Smart should not be considered

Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart issued a statement early Sunday Nov. 18 announcing that the University of Tennessee and head coach Derek Dooley were parting ways. (Image courtesy of TNJN/Veronesi, Robby)

As I stated yesterday, Derek Dooley needed to go.

Apparently, Dave Hart agreed.

Slightly after 11 a.m. this morning, Hart issued a statement announcing his decision to dismiss his coach following yesterday’s loss.

Hart says that he still believes this program is a proud program, one that many coaches would be proud to do their job at.

One thing that Hart said was critical is to have a head coach with head coaching experience and success. Hiring a coordinator or position coach to become the top guy in the Southeastern Conference is a risk, to do it in the SEC after six consecutive national titles is insane.

You never know if a coordinator will work out, and at this tumultuous time, Tennessee just can’t afford to try it.

Everyone’s top choice, and the guy that most Georgia Bulldog fans think will land in Athens upon coach Richt’s retirement, is Kirby Smart, if you were to go the coordinator route.

However, Nick Saban is the guy everyone says is a defensive guru and thus the question is raised, how much does Smart actually run the defense?

Coaches like to be in charge, especially coaches like Saban. The risk of finding out how good Smart really is without Saban just is not worth the risk in my opinion.

Hart says that the financial situation of the athletic department will be not be an issue based on assurances by chancellor Jimmy Cheek. No details were announced on this assurance, but if true, then the biggest concern of the Vol faithful has been eliminated, which was how much can the Vols even pay?

The December time frame that Hart says is critical for this hire is wise, but Hart needs to get this done sooner rather than later. The recruiting dead period begins mid December and with Tennessee not playing for a bowl, the Vols need the lime light to get into top high school and junior college players minds.

Keep your eyes and ears focused on the National College Football Hall of Fame Award’s Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on Dec. 7. The who’s who of college football’s athletic directors and coaches will be in attendance and the hotel is more than equipped to host interviews in a secure environment.


Derek Dooley needs to go

Derek Dooley should lose his job as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers following a 41-18 defeat to the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday Nov. 17. (Image courtesy of TNJN/Veronesi, Robby)

Following a 41-18 defeat today to the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Tennessee Volunteers are now one loss away from their first eight loss season in conference play in school history.

The loss marks the program’s 13th SEC loss in their last 14 attempts and seals a second consecutive season without a bowl game.

Those numbers are staggering for a program that went 29-3 in conference play from 1995-98 under then head coach Phillip Fulmer. Staggering numbers for a program that ranks in the top 10 in number of all-time wins across college football, third in all-time bowl appearances and sixth in all-time bowl victories.

What is going wrong?

In January 2010, Tennessee hired a coach in Derek Dooley with an overall career head coaching record of 17-20 at Louisiana Tech. Dooley had a .500 conference record against opponents like Boise State, Utah State, Idaho, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Hawaii and Nevada.

He had no proven track record of success, with his biggest win taking place Aug. 30, 2008 against Mississippi State. An SEC program sure, but an SEC program that went 4-8 that season.

Dooley’s hype came from getting the Bulldogs to their first bowl in seven seasons, and first postseason victory in 31 years.

Dooley’s arrival on Rocky Top was marred by a month of silence, former players rumored to have been “kicked out” of the football complex and a general sense of displeasure at the perceived quality of the hire.

The first season at the helm of the big orange, Dooley led his team into LSU’s Death Valley only to come up just short of a victory due to too many players being on the field. The Vols were able to reach a bowl game, but Dooley’s squad lost again due to a too many players on the field penalty – this time from the other side of the field.

Vol fans were livid.

Season two ended with the Vols failing to reach a bowl game, going 1-7 in conference play for the first time in school history and snapping a 26-game winning streak over the Kentucky Wildcats. The only win for the Orange and White was an overtime victory, in Neyland Stadium, against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Now 11 games into season three, the Vols are again ineligible for postseason play. Tennessee has lost to Vanderbilt for the second time in eight seasons ( the Vols won 28 of the previous 29 before the 2005 loss).

Tennessee was embarrassed in Nashville with the programs first loss in the city to the Dores in 30 years.

Tennessee is 15-21, 4-19 overall under Dooley’s tenure. With one game left to play, the Vols have a worse record than Dooley had in three seasons at Louisiana Tech. The competition is tougher sure, but the talent of players is better on his team also.

Tennessee needs to part ways or the program’s once legendary history will continue to be tarnished and the pit will continue to get deeper and deeper for the next guy to dig out.


I’m Back

603 Days.

Two and a half years since I have posted on this blog.

So where did I go?

I changed my major at the University of Tennessee to sports journalism and began writing professionally for the Tennessee Journalist and the Knoxville News Sentinel. An assignment for my Sports Journalism 475 class is to post in a blog format, and thus I remembered my time here and have decided to revive it. My writing style should be much improved, so here we go!