Tennessee fired Butch Jones on Sunday, ending a five-year run with a 34-27 record.
Jones led the Volunteers to back-to-back 9-4 seasons in 2015-16 and helped rebuild the program, but this year’s struggles amplified after losses to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri. The Volunteers have not won an SEC game since beating Missouri last November and have lost their most recent game to every other conference opponent.
MORE: Tennessee’s problem isn’t Jones, it’s finding next coach
The candidates to replace Jones range from coaches who have won Super Bowls and national championships to everything in between. Big names are in play here, too. Tennessee needs to make that kind of statement.
The next coach will be Tennessee’s fourth since Phillip Fulmer retired in 2008. The Volunteers haven’t won an SEC championship since 1998 and haven’t reached the conference championship game since 2007.
That’s what the next coach is up against. Here are the nine best candidates to take that job on.
We just need an excuse to write “Grumors.” Gruden is the dreamiest of dream candidates for Tennessee, even though he hasn’t coached in college since 1989. Gruden began his coaching career at Tennessee as a GA in 1986-87 and the fascination here has lasted since Fulmer retired. It would take an obscene amount of money to pull Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth. It also would be a bigger story than Jim Harbaugh to Michigan.
Miles turned 64 on Friday, and he isn’t a long-term option. But if Tennessee doesn’t like the unproven options, then Miles, who has a proven track record in the SEC and could feasibly build for the next three to five years and leave the next coach in good shape, would be worth giving a call. Miles is 141-55 for his career.
Kelly checks a lot of boxes. He was 46-7 at Oregon from 2009-12, has NFL experience, runs a hyper-speed offense and would create buzz in Knoxville as a big-name candidate. Would he fit in the SEC? We’ve been waiting to find out for years. Of the big names here, Kelly is the most feasible option.
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It would take a lot of money to pull Fuente out of Virginia Tech, but given his track record at Memphis and the quick renovation he put on the Hokies’ program it would be worth a look. It’s a lateral move, but just the kind of shakeup that would give Tennessee could at least try to pull off to make that splash.
Frost seems to be the candidate-in-waiting for the Nebraska job, but could Tennessee spice that up and beat them to the punch? Frost has built UCF from a doormat to a legitimate New Year’s Day Six contender in less than two seasons, and he’s going to win when he moves up. It’s a good choice.
Campbell has a next-big-thing feel to him, and the turnaround in Ames isn’t going unnoticed. Campbell is young, energetic and apparently not afraid to step outside of his comfort zone. Campbell would be up to this challenge. Would Tennessee make this play?
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Jim Bob Cooter
Cooter played at Tennessee, and he has excelled as the offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Detroit Lions. He fits, but he has no college experience since serving as a GA for the Vols in 2007-08. Cooter, however is 33 years old and would appease those who want a local guy running the program. Would Fulmer influence this hire?
Martin delivered Tennessee’s last national championship as a player, and he has served as an offensive assistant coach at USC since 2012-13. Fit isn’t a problem, but a lack of experience as a head coach would come into play. Tennessee could sell this move, and it’s possible.
Brown is 37 years old, and he’s enjoyed success in his first head coaching stint at Troy. The Trojans won 10 games last season and beat LSU this season. Brown knows the landscape, too, from his days as an assistant at Kentucky. Is this name big enough for the Vols? That’s the big question.