What is going on in Knoxville?
What should have been one of the best coaching jobs in the country has turned into an episode of the Bachelorette with nobody accepting the rose.
Tennessee is currently 0-4 in selecting a replacement for Derek Dooley. They aren't desperate yet, but the recruiting clock is ticking and the more people who turn them down, the more awkward the situation becomes. Who wants to show up on day one knowing they were the fifth choice?
First there was Jon Gruden, who put speculation to bed quickly. Not interested. Loves the broadcast booth and the cushy hours, and has no desire or need to jump back into the sleep-on-the-office-couch madness that comes with being a big-time coach.
Then there was Mike Gundy who didn't have the season Oklahoma State fans wanted, but who also told the Vols "thanks, but no thanks."
Enter Charlie Strong, head coach at Louisville, the team headed to the Sugar Bowl to face Florida. Surely a former SEC coordinator with strong ties to the conference would take the head coaching job at Tennessee.
It turns out, not so much. Strong also turned them down.
When that news broke, the Vols went after North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, who replaced Butch Davis and led the Tar Heels to an 8-4 record in his inaugural season in Chapel Hill. How could a 50-year-old coach who spent four years at Southern Miss before moving to the ACC pass on a brass ring like UT?
Good question, but Fedora did just that, taking a very public pass.
But why? On paper this is a dream job for a rising coach, a shot to enter the SEC at a school with one of the finest, state-of-the-art athletic facilities in the world, a fan base that fills up a 103,000-seat stadium for every home game, and a solid base of athletics waiting anxiously to see who they are going to play for next year.
Say what you will about Derek Dooley, but he didn't leave the place decimated. There is plenty of talent on the Tennessee roster. The new guy will need to fill a few spots, but nothing like what Dooley faced when he took over from Lane Kiffin.
So, what is the problem?
It could be the daunting nature of the schedule. Any coaching coming into Tennessee realizes that Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are looking like perennial powerhouses, and Vanderbilt under James Franklin isn't getting worse. That leaves Kentucky and Missouri, and after one year of getting slapped around at their welcome party, Mizzou will certainly step up their game next year. Throw in a game or two from the West Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and an incoming coach would have to see a deck that is stacked against him.
But challenges are what drive most great coaches to get up in the morning. The thought of playing tough games can't be scaring people away.
So, if it isn't the facilities, or the athletes, or the schedule, it can only be one of two things. Either Tennessee isn't opening the purse strings in a way that catches the eye of the best coaches in the game, or these candidates sense that the structural problems in Knoxville haven't been solved yet.
It's too soon to know which of those factors can be blamed. But the longer this process goes on, the more glaring the big orange warts become.
Goodness knows, the Vols don't need to go much deeper down the candidate list before announcing that they have found their man.