Next UT coach: Todd Graham?

Where Todd Graham goes, dramatic turnarounds tend to follow.

In his first year as defensive coordinator at West Virginia the Mountaineers improved from 3-8 to 9-3.

In his first year as defensive coordinator at Tulsa the Golden Hurricane went from 1-11 to 8-4.

In his first year as head coach at Rice the Owls climbed from 1-11 to 7-5.

With Tennessee possibly headed for a 3-9 disaster, a guy with a knack for rapid rebuilding just might be the ideal successor to outgoing Vol head man Phillip Fulmer.

Graham, born 43 years ago in Mesquite, Texas, has a lot of recruiting contacts in the prospect-laden Lone Star State. If hired by Tennessee, he probably would bring along offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, giving the Vols a recruiting pipeline into the talent-rich Springdale (Ark.) High School program that Malzahn directed from 2001-05.

Graham and Malzahn certainly would make for an attractive package. Their 2007 Tulsa team averaged 542.5 yards and 39.5 points per game en route to a 10-4 record. Their 2008 team leads the NCAA at 50 points per game and is converting on an astounding 58 percent of its third-down plays.

The '08 Golden Hurricane is 8-2, the losses coming at Arkansas (30-23) and at Houston (70-30).

Graham was a two-time All-NAIA defensive back at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. He returned to his alma mater as defensive coordinator in the 1990s, helping it win an NAIA national title in '93.

After coaching in the high school ranks for seven years, he became Rich Rodriguez' linebacker coach at WVU in 2001. He was so impressive in this role that he was promoted to defensive coordinator the following season. His first year coordinating the defense coincided with the Mountaineers making their turnaround from 3-8 to 9-3. Still, he left after one year to take the same job at Tulsa, contributing significantly to its one-year jump from 1-11 to 8-4 in 2003.

Two years later, Graham accepted the head-coaching reins at Rice, long considered a coaching graveyard. Incredibly, he elevated the program from 1-11 to 7-5 in his debut as a head coach, guiding the 2006 Owls to their first post-season bid (the New Orleans Bowl) in 45 years.

Graham's return to Tulsa – this time as head coach – after just one season at Rice ruffled the feathers of the long-suffering Owls. When he brought his '07 Tulsa team to Houston the following season, he was skewered by the Rice marching band in a halftime show dubbed "Todd Graham's Inferno."

Based loosely on Dante's "The Divine Comedy," the show suggested that Graham would burn in the ninth circle of hell for abandoning the Owls after just one season. The announcer even referred to him as a "douche bag" at one point. Tulsa officials were so outraged that they lodged a formal complaint with the Conference USA office.

Despite only three years' experience as a head coach, Graham's 25-12 record, his relatively low salary (a reported $1.1 million), his high-scoring offense and his knack for quick turnarounds make him an attractive option for a program such as Tennessee.

It might be wise to avoid visiting Rice anytime soon, though.


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