- Mike Leach, another high-profile contender, watched his second-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders get hammered 65-21 by No. 5 Oklahoma on national TV. Leach's heralded offense converted just 1 of 13 third-down tries while his suspect defense was torched for 625 yards.
- Tim Brewster, a popular option because of his reputation as a relentless recruiter, surely lost some ground in the UT coaching search when his Minnesota squad was crushed 55-0 by Iowa. The 8-4 Hawkeyes outgained Brewster's 7-5 Gophers 483-134 in yards. Heck, even Tennessee's woeful offense gains more than 134 yards per game.
- Mark Dantonio, a Nick Saban disciple known for his defensive expertise, exhibited very little of it as his 15th-ranked Michigan State team was battered 49-18 by No. 8 Penn State. The Nittany Lions (11-1) piled up 557 total yards to 322 for the Spartans, who slip to 9-3.
- Troy Calhoun, a low-cost option at $600,000 per year, probably saw his stock drop a bit when his Air Force Falcons suffered a 44-10 loss to No. 16 TCU. Air Force (8-4) managed a paltry 161 yards of total offense.
Not all of the coaches considered to be on Tennessee's "list" suffered lopsided defeats Saturday, of course. A few of them actually notched impressive victories. For instance:
- Brian Kelly guided No. 19 Cincinnati to the first defeat of Pitt in program history, a 28-21 triumph. The Bearcats kept the ball 34:47 to 25:13 in improving their record to 9-2. They need only to beat Syracuse in six days to clinch the Big East title.
- Gary Patterson led No. 16 TCU to the afore-mentioned 44-10 drubbing of Air Force. The Horned Frogs totally dominated, keeping the ball 38:32 to 21:28 and outgaining the Falcons 504 yards to 161.
- Todd Graham guided Tulsa to its ninth win in 11 games, a 56-7 blowout of Tulane. The Golden Hurricane, converting better than 50 percent of its third-down tries this season, succeeded on 8 of 10 this time. Tulsa, whose offense is coordinated by former Arkansas OC Gus Malzahn, piled up 593 yards.
For what it's worth (not much, admittedly), here's how I'd rank the candidates on a 1-10 scale in the wake of Saturday's results:
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati (9.5): Like UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl, Kelly has enjoyed terrific success at the Div. II and mid-major levels. He obviously gets a lot out of his players because Bearcat quarterback Tony Pike threw for 309 yards and three TDs last night despite a broken arm.
Mike Leach, Texas Tech (9.5): He consistently fashions explosive offenses around nondescript quarterbacks, which appears to be the challenge he would face at Tennessee. His high-scoring attack would keep fans entertained while he's rebuilding the Vol program. Leach reportedly is a bona-fide eccentric but UT supporters will overlook that if he wins.
Gary Patterson, TCU (9.5): The fact he has posted five 10-win seasons in seven years at a traditional also-ran is really impressive. His teams are solid, offensively and defensively. The problem: He's an alumnus of Kansas State, which also is shopping for a new head coach.
Chris Peterson, Boise State (9.0): He has just three years' experience as a head coach and the competition has hardly been elite. Still, his record is an imposing 34-3, including an 11-0 mark this year. At age 44, he should be hitting his prime.
Todd Graham, Tulsa (9.0): His team scores 50 points per game without being pass-happy. The Golden Hurricane gained 489 of its 593 net yards on the ground vs. Tulane. If I could get Graham and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn as a package deal, I'd be tempted to pull the trigger. The problem: I'm still scratching my head over that 70-30 loss to Houston a few weeks back.
Butch Davis, North Carolina (8.0): There's no way I'd pay the salary Davis would command to a guy who stands 7-4 after bowing by 31 to an underdog with a losing record. If 7-4 is satisfactory, Tennessee should've kept Phillip Fulmer.
Lane Kiffin, unemployed (7.5): He's a young, good-looking guy with a pro background and a respected coach for a father. Of course, so was Mike Shula, and we all remember how he worked out for Alabama.
Tim Brewster, Minnesota (7.5): His recruiting prowess is enticing but lopsided losses to Michigan (29-6) and Iowa (55-0) in the past three weeks have raised concerns about his coaching abilities.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force (7.5): He's done awfully well at a program where winning is a real challenge. The fact he has lost 11 games in a row to ranked teams, however, suggests his Falcons have trouble rising to the occasion in big games.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (7.5): When your team gives up 49 points and 557 yards to Penn State, you don't qualify as a defensive specialist to me.