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New football coach, whoever it is, might not be able to fix mess at Tennessee

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is a possible candidate for the similar position at Tennessee. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is a possible candidate for the similar position at Tennessee. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)
By Matt Bonesteel Washington Post

Let’s say you’re Tennessee athletic director John Currie, and your attempt at hiring a football coach just blew up in your face. How do you move on from that?

How do you move on from this?

It’s becomes so bad at Tennessee that fans are chanting “Fire Currie” wherever such hollering is condoned, in this case a Monday night taping of the WWE in Knoxville. So now wrestling fans around the country, who perhaps might not have been aware of the mess that is the Vols’ coaching search, are now keyed in.

Anyway, the first step for Currie might be saving his job, according to Fox Sports/Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman:

“Am told there’s increasing pressure now from big-money #Vols boosters to force #Tennessee AD John Currie out in the wake of Sunday’s news. UT source told me: ‘This is such a hot mess. Just when you think they’ve gotten out of the ditch. They’ve fallen into a much bigger one,’ ” he tweeted.

Should Currie be able to hold on, the next step will be finding a coach who is comfortable dealing with:

1. A program that has compiled just a 62-63 record since its last 10-win season, which was 10 years and four head coaches ago (six, if you count interim coaches).

2. A fan base that, above record be darned, has perhaps an overinflated sense of its place in college football.

3. An athletic director who is on thin ice, at the very least, and could be replaced over the tiniest of future screw-ups. And then said coach would be working for a new athletic director, and new athletic directors sometimes want to have their own people in place, and then we’re doing this all over again in a few years unless this new coach somehow coaxes 10-win seasons out of a program that hasn’t seen many of them in recent years, thus pleasing an seemingly impossible-to-please fan base.

Got all that?

Since Currie’s failed attempt to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday, we’ve received reports that Duke coach David Cutcliffe – Tennessee’s offensive coordinator during the Peyton Manning years – and Iowa State coach Matt Campbell turned down the Vols. Currie is still taking his cuts, though: A report arose Tuesday from Knoxville sports-talk host Jimmy Hyams that Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy has entered the conversation:

“With Duke’s David Cutcliffe and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell out of the picture, Tennessee has turned its coaching search focus to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. Three sources told me UT has interviewed Gundy, perhaps in Dallas. UT offered Gundy in 2012 but he said declined,” he tweeted.

Brett McMurphy, still breaking news even after his ESPN layoff, has more on Gundy’s interest: “Sources told me Mike Gundy notified Oklahoma State officials, as required by his contract, of his intention to speak with Tennessee about Vols’ job. That meeting scheduled today in Dallas.”

One has to think Gundy would be acceptable to the Tennessee fan base. In the seven seasons from 2010-16, Oklahoma State won at least 10 games five times – his 2011 team probably would have played for the BCS title if not for a late-season loss to Iowa State – and the Cowboys can add to that tally with a bowl victory this year. Gundy employs an entertaining offense, often using recruits who were overlooked. Tennessee could do much, much worse.

But getting Gundy out of Stillwater – where he has spent his adult life, apart from a four-year sojourn as an assistant at Baylor and Maryland – could prove difficult. So Hyams gives us this list of other candidates, which is filled with coordinators and younger commodities:

“Other potential candidates: SMU coach Chad Morris, Auburn DCKevin Steele, Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt, Clemson DC Brent Venables, Memphis coach Mike Norvell, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm. Pruitt and Venables have interviewed at Mississippi State,” he posted,

So Currie has options, even after the Schiano affair, but he’s also competing for head coaches with Arkansas, Mississippi State, Arizona State, Nebraska, Oregon State and Texas A&M. Those names above will be attractive to a host of programs, some of them perhaps in better shape than Tennessee and none of them with a debacle on the books already this firing season.

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