College Football: In coaching search it ain't over 'til it's over

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 10, 2008

By John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel
North Carolina football coach Butch Davis says he’s happy in Chapel Hill and committed to building a championship program there. His agent, Jimmy Sexton, also downplayed the Davis-to-Tennessee rumor.
So you immediately crossed Davis off your University of Tennessee coaching candidates list, right?
Of course, you didn’t.
If you’re football savvy enough to know that 10 yards gets you a first down, then you know that veiled denials mean nothing when it comes to coaching searches. And you’re also savvy enough to know that outright denials are just as bogus.
On the same day that then-Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban told the world he wouldn’t be the coach at Alabama, an Alabama insider told me he was “75 percent sure” Saban would be the next head coach at Alabama.
You know how that turned out.
Davis was hardly as emphatic in dismissing speculation connecting him to the Tennessee vacancy. In fact, he might be the most reasonable rumor of all the high-profile candidates.
A source told me weeks ago that “UT representatives had expressed an interest in Davis.”
That’s hardly shocking. He laid the groundwork for a national championship at the University of Miami. He was an NFL head coach with the Cleveland Browns. He has had a sudden, positive impact at North Carolina.
What’s not to like?
Maybe it bothers some Vols fans that he’s 57. Big deal. Saban is 57, too, and his team is ranked No. 1 in the nation. And I won’t even mention how old the coach of the No. 3 team is.
Also, consider Davis from an athletic director’s perspective. You’re taking a chance if you hire a college coordinator or even an NFL coach with no track record for recruiting.
How could anyone second-guess you for hiring Davis?
You might wonder why Davis would leave North Carolina, where the expectations are lower and the competition is easier. This just in: It’s a basketball school, and he doesn’t coach basketball.
He was a head coach in the NFL. He was a Dallas Cowboys assistant. He was in the national spotlight at the University of Miami. He’s accustomed to a bigger stage than North Carolina football can provide.
Certainly, Tennessee would have to flash enough cash to get his attention. But that won’t be an issue. This is no time for being frugal.
That’s why I disagree with the assessment of Sexton, who is also the agent for outgoing Vols coach Phillip Fulmer. He said on a Memphis radio station that he thought UT would go after a successful coach at a school with fewer resources or after a coordinator.
The successful coach at another program makes sense. The “coordinator” doesn’t. Tennessee is too big of a program with too many resources. It doesn’t have to gamble on a coordinator with no head-coaching experience.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach falls into the category of a successful coach at a program with fewer resources. In the most competitive conference outside of the SEC, he has made headway against the likes of Oklahoma and Texas. And his team plays in a stadium with about half the seating capacity of Neyland Stadium.
A source told me that Leach is “very, very interested” in the UT job. Of course, Leach isn’t going to say that. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s currently preoccupied with trying to win a national championship. He’s also on the verge of having his contract renegotiated.
So he’s probably happy where he is and committed to building a championship program at Texas Tech. But don’t cross him off your list.