Next UT coach: Brian Kelly?

Like Bruce Pearl, he was born in Massachusetts. Like Bruce Pearl, he has enjoyed incredible success coaching Div. II and mid-major programs. And, like Bruce Pearl, he could wind up at Tennessee.

The guy in question is Brian Kelly, currently the head football coach at the University of Cincinnati.

Kelly, who just turned 47 last month, has imposing credentials. He went 118-35-2 in 13 seasons as head man at Grand Valley State. He won consecutive NCAA Div. II national titles there in 2002 and 2003, earning recognition as American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year each season. His 2002 team averaged 497.5 yards and 47 points per game and he went 41-2 over his last three years, including a 32-game win streak.

Moving up to NCAA Div. I, Kelly assumed a major rebuilding job at Central Michigan, where he posted records of 4-7, 6-5, 9-4 from 2004-2006. He then took over at Cincinnati in time to guide the Bearcats to a defeat of Western Michigan in the 2006 International Bowl.

In 2007, his first full year at Cincy, he guided the team to a 10-3 record, a Bowl defeat of Southern Miss and a No. 17 national ranking. These efforts earned him recognition as Big East Coach of the Year.

The Bearcats are 7-2 this fall with a No. 22 national ranking. They knocked off No. 24 South Florida 24-10 two weeks ago and beat West Virginia 26-23 last weekend.

Kelly's ties to talent-rich Ohio surely enhance his attractiveness to UT brass. Many Vol greats have hailed from the Buckeye State, including Jack Reynolds and Darryl Hardy (Cincinnati), Anthony Hancock and Tim McGee (Cleveland), Paul Naumoff (Columbus), Peerless Price (Dayton), Roland James (Jamestown), William Howard (Lima), Jeremy Lincoln and Chuck Webb (Toledo).

Kelly makes a reported $1.2 million per year – half what Tennessee is paying Phillip Fulmer this season – so money should not be a deal-breaker if the Vols choose to make an offer.

On a negative note, Kelly's two losses this fall were by lopsided margins – 40-16 to Connecticut and 52-26 to Oklahoma. And, whereas his 2007 team ranked No. 13 nationally by averaging 36.3 points per game, his '08 squad has averaged just 26.7 ppg, has lost 11 fumbles and has converted on just 30 percent of its third-down tries.

Kelly achieved an NCAA milestone in 2006. He beat Western Michigan during the regular season as head coach at Central Michigan, then beat WMU again in the International Bowl as head man at Cincinnati – thus becoming the first coach ever to beat a team twice in one season while directing different programs.

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