The problem was, Davis has denied interest in the Vol vacancy so loud and long that you tend to believe him.
With Davis out of the picture, I figured the safest pick would be Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. What could be more foolproof than using the same hiring model that lured Vol basketball coach Bruce Pearl to Big Orange Country? Bringing in an up-and-coming coach with a terrific record at the Div. II and mid-major levels seemed to be the best way to appease the fan base without obliterating the budget.
Kelly, however, has made comments which suggest he genuinely is not interested in the UT vacancy. The comments seem so genuine, in fact, that it really appears he's out of the picture.
Throughout this whole search process, the one guy I considered to be the riskiest pick was former Oakland Raiders boss Lane Kiffin ... for obvious reasons:
- He has never been a head coach at the collegiate level.
- He has been a head coach for just 20 games at the NFL level.
- His head coaching record is a less-than-inspiring 5 wins, 15 losses.
- He is 33 years old, just 10 months older than Peyton Manning.
Given all of the above, I was a bit shocked to learn that Kiffin appears to have been offered the Vol vacancy. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized he probably is "the safest pick available."
Do you know what Kevin O'Neill, Ron Zook and Ed Orgeron have in common? Of course, you do. They're guys who recruited well for SEC schools but never won big at those schools.
O'Neill recruited quality basketball players to Tennessee, then bolted. Still, successor Jerry Green posted four 20-win seasons and four NCAA Tournament bids with the talent he inherited from O'Neill.
Zook recruited quality football players to Florida, but was canned after just three years on the job. Still, successor Urban Meyer has won 41 of 50 games – plus one national title so far – with the talent he inherited from Zook.
Orgeron recruited quality football players to Ole Miss, but was canned after three years on the job. Still, successor Houston Nutt has the Rebels on a meteoric rise with the talent he inherited from Orgeron.
O'Neill was a flop as Tennessee's coach, going 36-47 in his three years at the Vol helm. But he left a championship-caliber team for his successor.
Zook was a flop as Florida's coach, going 23-15 in three years at the Gator helm. But he left a championship-caliber team for his successor.
Orgeron was a flop as Ole Miss' coach, going 10-25 in three years at the Rebel helm. But he left a budding championship-caliber team for his successor.
Like O'Neill, Zook and Orgeron, Kiffin is regarded as a top-notch recruiter. He'll bring quality players into Tennessee's program. If he can coach, he'll enjoy immediate success. Even if he's a flop, he'll leave a full cupboard for his successor. Either way, Tennessee is sure to be competing at a high level within four years.
How could there be a safer pick than that?