While Arkansas basks in the limelight of the silly season's splashiest hire and Auburn at least has a fan-favorite former OC in tow, the Tennessee Volunteers are languishing through yet another wilting coaching search. The Vols struck out on dream hire Jon Gruden and excellent plan B's Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong. It now appears they may have also struck out on plan C, Larry Fedora, although Fedora remains in play for now. Butch Jones appears to be another potential candidate, and as Rocky Top Talk notes, Jones would be an underwhelming hire--in my opinion, he wouldn't be a significantly better hire than Derek Dooley was in 2010.
So, what gives? Is the Tennessee job really that bad, or did the Vols target the wrong candidates? Probably a little bit of both. On the one hand, Year 2 lays out a good case that the Vols picked unrealistic candidates. Gruden is a career NFL guy who makes tons of money as an analyst. Gundy coaches at his alma mater and works for an athletics department with almost unlimited funds, courtesy of T. Boone Pickens. Strong is loyal to Louisville for giving him his big break, and a little known side of that story is that UL's athletics department also has very deep pockets. I don't know as much about Fedora, but Year 2 rightly notes that he's only in his first year at UNC. I'm not even sure he would be a great hire, anyways. He looks solid, but he's also not the guy with a proven track record that UT wants. Heck, even Strong somewhat lacks that. In any event, all of these guys have circumstances that mitigate against considering other jobs, even a good one at a traditional power.
Of course, if UT was perceived as a golden opportunity, it would be more likely that one of these guys would jump at the chance. As C&F points out, while there's a lingering perception that UT is a big-time program, and while it may very well be one again, it hasn't been a successful program in many years. The overall record is only marginally above .500 in the past eight years. A lot is made over what Saban had to do to get 'Bama back on track after the Mike Shula tenure, but Shula's record was excellent compared to what the Vols have been wading through since Fulmer was let go. This is now a major rebuilding project. The ceiling is certainly higher at Tennessee than it is at Oklahoma State and certainly than it is at UNC or Louisville, but each of those programs is currently in better shape than Tennessee. It's not just the mitigating circumstances that kept those coaches at home.
Recruiting is a big piece of the puzzle with Tennessee. The in-state talent pool is shallow, and programs in surrounding states have put fences around their local pools. The program needs a little magic to compete with likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and now, South Carolina. This is the area where Fulmer really excelled. The guy had a coast-to-coast national recruiting program and had close ties to many southeastern high schools outside of TN, and that's absolutely necessary for Tennessee to compete. You have to wonder whether coaches with choices think it's worth the trouble, and whether the ones without choices are capable of reproducing Fulmer's magic. Fulmer's success in the modern-day SEC is really quite an accomplishment, when you think about it. Maybe they shouldn't have fired him, after all.