Tennessee athletics probably should have laminated copies of these things at this point.
A coaching candidates hot sheet.
The Volunteers, again, are seeking a head football coach. Moonshine sits longer on Rocky Top these days than do most football coaches.
If interim coaches are included in the calculations, Tennessee's now gone through seven of them since 2009 and nine since 2008 with the firing of Jeremy Pruitt – factoring in the interim stints of Kippy Brown, then-offensive coordinator Jim Chaney in 2012 and former Michigan head man Brady Hoke as the Butch Jones era lie in ruins in 2017.
Where does Tennessee now turn for Pruitt's successor and its long-sought stabilizing force for a program that registered 16-straight winning seasons from 1989-2004 and since then is well below .500 in Southeastern Conference play, receding further from competitive balance with 16 of Pruitt's 19 losses by double-digits in less than three full seasons?
The specter of this ongoing probe into the Vols' football program, and specifically its recruiting practices, is the most prominent element of this process. A sitting NCAA compliance director at a Power-5 institution told FootballScoop on Monday that the chatter in college circles was that the Vols' penalties from this investigation could be, "A couple of Level-I Majors, involved assistant coaches get Show-Cause penalties and the institution could then escape the dreaded failure to monitor/lack of institutional control."
Stability likely is going to be the buzziest buzz-word in this Volunteers' search. The program already has more players in the NCAA Transfer Portal than any other team in major college football, including the most recent addition of former five-star offensive lineman Wanya Morris.
It has lost assistant coaches under Pruitt with such regularity – 11 prior to Pruitt's firing just since Pruitt's hiring in December 2017 by Phillip Fulmer -- that office nameplates might have seemed excessive.
Tennessee has hired Parker Executive Search Firm to help them select their next athletic director. The new AD will then hire the new head coach. Until such time, Kevin Steele will serve as acting head coach of the Vols.
Now, a look at the candidates for the full-time job once the next AD is hired.
Two of college football's hottest young stars just happen to be Volunteer State natives.
Coastal Carolina's Jamey Chadwell hails from Caryville, Tennessee, a small community barely 30 miles north of Neyland Stadium. Chadwell owns both Football Championship Subdivision and Football Bowls Subdivision head coaching experience, at Charleston Southern and Coastal, respectively. He's advanced into the NCAA Division II and FCS playoffs and guided the Chanticleers to bowl games and a program-record best No. 14 final finish in the 2020 Associated Press Top 25.
Chadwell's past brushes with the NCAA are minor line-item notes and well in his rearview mirror. He's earned an extension at the South Carolina school near renowned Myrtle Beach, but sources tell FootballScoop Chadwell's understandably always had interest in the UT top job.
Louisiana coach Billy Napier's a Cookeville, Tennessee, native who's shown a mature wisdom to be incredibly selective in plotting his course from Group of Five darling to potential Power-5 program with all the resources and trappings, not to mention all the pressures and mega-buck budgets and salaries. Napier's elected to stick with the Cajuns rather than earnestly pursue multiple SEC opportunities in the past two years, including Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
Still, UT is the flagship program in Napier's home state and a mere 100 miles from his hometown. His experience as an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama and Dabo Swinney at Clemson also is an enhancing quality, as is his 28-11 head coaching ledger that includes a trio of Sun Belt West division titles and the 2020 SunBelt co-champion crown, as well as a No. 15 final ranking.
Of the attainable and feasible candidates certain to be bandied about, Napier might just be the crown jewel.
Yet Doug Marrone already has intense support in key Knoxville circles and already is a candidate who's been discussed with Fulmer, per sources with direct knowledge. Marrone worked one season as Fulmer's offensive line coach, back in 2001, when Fulmer's last, best team at Tennessee squandered a national championship berth in a stunning SEC title game loss to … Saban's LSU Tigers.
Recently fired from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Marrone brings the credibility and stability Tennessee so desperately needs. He also has the iPhone contacts at his disposal to assemble a strong staff.
Kevin Steele's in his first few days back officially as a member of the football staff at Tennessee, which is Steele's alma mater and also represents critical parts of his development as an assistant coach. Fans like Steele; they likely hope he remains a part of the future of Tennessee football. He's a tough sell as head coach for a program that just failed miserably with a defensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach. But don't discount Steele as a factor.
Huge Freeze likely is the most popular would-be candidate, and Freeze's Tennessee connections are both deep and plentiful. He's coached high school and small college programs in Tennessee, still has key, influential allies who want a reason – namely, Freeze – to financially support the Volunteers program. And Freeze is the only candidate Tennessee can hire proven to be, at minimum, a nuisance to Saban and Alabama.
Additionally, Freeze's teams play an exciting, frenetic type of offense and he's won 10 games in every program he's ever been head coach, including his 10-1, No. 17 2020 campaign at Liberty.
Freeze no longer is persona non grata in the SEC, per sources briefed with direct information on the matter, and his NCAA show-cause penalty was effectively a one-year ban.
Sure, it takes some intestinal fortitude to welcome back Freeze into big-time college football, but there's also a case to be made that, like dining at a restaurant once it first fails and then passes its health inspection, there's never a better time to hire a coach in need of a second chance.
Adam Gase deserves monitoring in this situation, because he has a good relationship with Peyton Manning. And while Manning works behind the scenes in these affairs as effectively as he barked out “Omaha! Omaha!” in his playing days, don't discount the Manning Effect. Especially with another coach Manning favored, Bill O'Brien, officially off the board as Saban's and Alabama's offensive coordinator.
Additionally, one high-ranking college football source with deep ties to the NFL also said there has been chatter surrounding former Vols great and future NFL Hall of Famer Jason Witten being back involved at his alma mater.
Lane Kiffin's likely in a category similar to Freeze, except Kiffin would have come back to Rocky Top in 2017 when Pruitt was hired, per sources with intimate knowledge of the situation, but Fulmer was not remotely willing to consider Kiffin at that time.
Other names worth monitoring for the oft-hung Tennessee vacancy sign include recently fired Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Indiana head coach Tom Allen may well get a call and Texas' controversial, fired coach Tom Herman cannot be ruled entirely out of the equation.