So this morning, UT AD Dave Hart wakes up feeling like a Georgia Tech student who spent last night getting drunk failing to pick up hot looking women at a bar while his friends scored.
Mike Gundy is staying at Oklahoma State. Larry Fedora is telling recruits he’s staying at North Carolina. And the biggest slap in the face of all? Charlie Strong rejected the Vols… to stay at Louisville. How much does that sting? Plenty.
But the rejection by Strong, assuming he doesn’t change his mind in the next few hours, should be a warning sign to Vol Nation. The Louisville coach just decided he’d be better off staying there than going to Tennessee.
Let that one sink in for a minute. In 1998, the year Tennessee last won a national title, Louisville was opening Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and just beginning its rise in Conference USA as a nice launching pad for coaches to go onto bigger jobs. John L. Smith won some games and eventually went to Michigan State. Bobby Petrino won even bigger and went to the NFL. Athletic director Tom Jurich hired and quickly fired Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa before picking off Strong, a journeyman SEC assistant that nobody in that league would hire for a lead job…
But the idea that Tennessee can’t steal Louisville’s coach is almost unthinkable. Forget the perceived differences between the ACC (where Louisville is headed in 2014) and the SEC. Forget that on Monday Strong publicly complained that Louisville didn’t come close to filling its 55,000-seat stadium for Senior Day with a team that was 9-1 at the time. Strong, at his core, is an SEC guy. He coached at Florida, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and South Carolina. He knows that league. He loves that league. And given an opportunity to take what is supposed to be one of that league’s best jobs, he decided to stay.
That says a lot about Louisville, but it says even more about Tennessee right now.
Ouchy ouch. Is Tennessee one of the SEC’s best jobs right now? Beats me. It’s not as if SOD left the program on incredibly firm footing (other than getting a handle on those pesky personal hygiene problems). But Tennessee is a proudly historical program with a large fan base that will put the money out if motivated. You’d think that would be enough to draw in an attractive candidate. That hasn’t happened, though. And it’s not just this immediate search, either. Dooley was far from the first choice after the Laner left. And Kiffin wasn’t exactly a quality hire, either.
Where Hart goes from here is hard to say. Petrino is sitting around, desperately waiting for a phone call that he’ll get if Hart’s level of desperation rises to match Motorcycle Man’s. Kirby Smart’s flirted with a few schools at this point, but it’s hard to say his demands are something UT’s willing to match. Besides, he’s never been a head coach and the Vols just canned a Saban acolyte. Is Hart willing to hold his nose and grab an overachiever from a mid-major? Again, he just fired a mid-major hire.
The depressing thing if you’re a Tennessee fan is that it’s not like this was a decision that snuck up on the school. Hart had to have pondered a SOD dismissal for a while now, yet here he sits working on Plan
B C D E F. Darn shame, I say.