Somewhere there exists an official Top 5 wish list to go with the many thousands of unofficial lists that are bantered about in forums, in blogs, in columns, on radio talk shows, in coffee shops, in line at Wal-Mart, at the office water cooler, while perusing the discount bin of Tennessee football paraphernalia at your local JC Penny's.
In the middle of a miserable season that seems destined to be the worst in school history, just five days after a 13-7 loss to Wyoming,on homecoming no less, eight days since the Fulmer bombshell exploded and just days before a Volunteer basketball squad that might be their most talented ever makes it debut, Big Orange fans are excited, anguished and enthralled about Tennessee football. Or at least that part of it that deals with finding the Vols next head coach.
This sort of event doesn't occur often and it's actually been forever since the Tennessee head coaching job was truly up for grabs. Since a tall, square jawed Texan named R.R. Neyland arrived on The Hill via West Point in 1926, the head coaching job has essentially been passed down either to a UT assistant or a former Vol serving as head coach at another school, as was the case with Bowden Wyatt and Johnny Majors. Even Doug Dickey played for former Volunteer Bob Woodruff at Florida and was later hired as head coach by Woodruff as an assistant on Frank Broyles Arkansas staff.
Going out of house and outside the Tennessee coaching family to fill the head coaching position is completely unique, and it is therefore being followed closely and scrutinized intensely. It will signal not just a change of helmsman but a change in direction and perhaps a quantum shift in Tennessee football philosophy.
When viewed through the prism of this season's inept offense the natural urge is to want a pass-happy head coach with a wide-open offense that has a catchy name and scores at a point-a-minute pace. However defenses in the SEC are simply too fast to be one dimensional and win consistently. Additionally it's still defense and the kicking game that wins championships. And wide-open offenses can put a real strain on hard-nosed defenses.
The names heard most often at this point in a very fluid process includes a top five that roughly shakes out as Butch Davis of North Carolina, Mike Leach of Texas Tech, Tim Brewster of Minnesota, Brian Kelly of Cincinnati and Will Muschamp, Texas defensive coordinator. Also being mentioned are Jim Harbaugh of Stanford, Lane Kiffin of the Oakland Raiders, Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State along with a litany of long shot NFL head coaches. Other candidates may emerge if the process drags on.
If Davis can be taken at face value and is not interested in the Tennessee job the search could settle around Leach and Kelly, either of whom would likely have an interest in the Tennessee position. That's a tough call. Leach would make a bigger splash but Kelly could be the bigger catch. Leach has faced tougher competition in the Big 12 but Kelly has succeeded at three schools that didn't win before he arrived. Leach may attract more top talent but Kelly will gets more out of his talent. Leach may be a better energizer but Kelly is a better organizer. Leach's offensive approach is likely to put more points on the board and fannies in the seats, but Kelly's offense is better balanced, more diverse and just as innovative. Each man has a proven formula for success.
With his Boston background and by-the-numbers rise up the coaching ranks, Kelly is much like Bruce Pearl. And if Kelly is the basketball equivalent of Pearl think of Mike Leach as the basketball equivalent of Jerry Tarkanian in his prime.
Long story short: Tennessee could win with either coach it's a matter of which it prefers.