Looking back on the Vols’ 2017 coaching candidates

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This past summer, after Jeremy Pruitt had his first full season as Tennessee’s head coach under his belt, we looked back on the long list of Vols’ coaching candidates to see how they did in 2018 relative to Pruitt. Now that Pruitt has turned a 1-4 beginning in 2019 into a 4-1 hot streak, we thought we’d use the second bye week of the season to take another peek.

This is a long post. The details of each candidate’s updates are below, but I’ve included my own re-ranking both here at the top and at the bottom for the sake of convenience and in the interest of fighting back against carpal tunnel.

Here’s my re-ranking as of right now:

Good bets

  1. Dan Mullen
  2. Jeremy Pruitt
  3. Jimbo Fisher
  4. Gary Patterson
  5. Matt Campbell
  6. Justin Fuente
  7. Mike Norvell
  8. Mike Leach
  9. Les Miles
  10. P.J. Fleck
  11. Joe Moorhead
  12. Jeff Brohm

Calculated risks

  1. Lane Kiffin
  2. Chip Kelly
  3. Jon Gruden
  4. Charlie Strong
  5. Scott Frost
  6. Mel Tucker
  7. Mike Bobo

Unknowns (as head coach)

  1. Brent Venables
  2. Kevin Steele
  3. Tee Martin

Goodness, what did we almost do?

  1. Chad Morris
  2. Willie Taggart
  3. Greg Schiano
  4. Bobby Petrino
  5. D.J. Durkin

Head coaches hired as head coaches

1. Dan Mullen

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Florida
  • Went 10-3 (5-3), tied for 2nd in the SEC East
  • Beat No. 23 Mississippi State, No. 5 LSU, and No. 7 Michigan
  • Only losses were to Kentucky, Missouri, and No. 7 Georgia

2019 so far

  • Currently 8-2 (5-2), 2nd in the SEC East
  • Beat then No. 7 Auburn, 24-13
  • Lost to then No. 5 LSU 42-28 and No. 8 Georgia 24-17
  • Team is currently No. 11 in the CFP rankings
  • On pace to exceed GRT 2019 expectations

2. Jimbo Fisher

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Texas A&M
  • Went 9-4 (5-3), tied for 2nd in the SEC West, No. 16 in both polls
  • Beat No. 13 Kentucky, No. 7 LSU, a bunch of others; lost by only 2 to No. 2 Clemson

2019 so far

  • Currently 6-3 (3-2), 4th in the SEC West
  • No wins over ranked teams
  • Lost to No. 1 Clemson 24-10, No. 8 Auburn 28-20, and No. 1 Alabama 47-28
  • Not ranked in the CFP rankings
  • On pace to meet or exceed GRT 2019 expectations

3. Willie Taggart

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Florida State
  • Went 5-7 (3-5), tied for 5th in the ACC Atlantic
  • Beat No. 20 Boston College, but lost to No. 20 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Miami, No. 2 Clemson, No. 21 NC State, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 11, and unranked Syracuse.

2019

  • Fired mid-season after a 4-5 (3-4) start capped by a 27-10 loss to rival Miami

4. Jon Gruden

2018

  • Hired as head coach at the NFL’s Oakland Raiders
  • Went 4-12, beating only Cleveland (in OT), Arizona (by 2), Pittsburgh (by 3), and Denver

2019 so far

  • Currently 5-4, 2nd in the AFC West

5. Scott Frost

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Nebraska
  • Went 4-8 (3-6); Beat only Minnesota, Bethune-Cookman, Illinois, and Michigan State, all unranked

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (2-4), 6th in the Big Ten West
  • Only wins over South Alabama, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Northwestern
  • Currently on a three-game losing streak to then-unranked teams

Coordinators hired as head coaches

1A. Joe Moorhead

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Mississippi State
  • Went 8-5 (4-4), 4th in SEC West
  • Beat No. 8 Auburn, No. 16 Texas A&M, and others; finished No. 25 in the Coaches Poll

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (2-4), 5th in the SEC West
  • Lost four of the past five games, with the lone win coming against an Arkansas team that just fired its Year 2 coach
  • Will fail to meet GRT 2019 expectations by at least two games

1B. Jeremy Pruitt

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Tennessee
  • Went 5-7 (2-6), last in the SEC East
  • Beat No. 21 Auburn and No. 11 Kentucky, but lost to No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 17 West Virginia, and unranked Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and Vanderbilt

2019 so far

  • Currently 5-5 (3-3), 3rd in the SEC East
  • Won four of the last five games, with the one loss coming to No. 1 Alabama
  • Two bad losses to unranked teams to begin the season
  • Other three losses all to Top 10 teams
  • On pace to meet GRT 2019 expectations overall, to exceed expectations for the SEC

3. Chip Kelly

2018

  • Hired as head coach at UCLA
  • Went 3-9 (3-6), 5th in the Pac-12 South
  • Only wins were against California, Arizona, and USC, all unranked

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (4-2), 3rd in the Pac 12 South
  • Started the season 1-5 (1-2)
  • Currently on a three-game win streak, which includes a win over No. 24 Arizona State

4. Chad Morris

2018

  • Hired as head coach at Arkansas
  • Went 2-10 (0-8), last in the SEC West
  • Only beat Eastern Illinois and Tulsa

2019 so far

  • Fired mid-season after a 2-8 (0-6) start, on the heels of a non-competitive seven-game losing streak

Candidates who got fired shortly after we were talking about hiring them

The next three guys not only didn’t get any offer compelling enough to move somewhere, they couldn’t even keep their existing jobs for one more season.

Greg Schiano

2018

  • Remained as defensive coordinator at Ohio State in 2018.
  • When Urban Meyer was suspended for three games, he handed the reins not to Schiano but to offensive coordinator Ryan Day.
  • The Buckeyes defense was not as good in 2018, and when Meyer retired at the end of the season, Day was made head coach. He did not retain Schiano after the season.
  • Schiano was hired as defensive coordinator for New England in February, 2019, but left after only a month.

2019 so far

  • Likely to return to Rutgers to take the open head coaching job

Bobby Petrino

2018

  • Remained at Louisville as head coach until he was fired in November
  • Team went 2-10 (0-8), last in ACC Atlantic
  • Only wins were against Indiana State and Western Kentucky

2019 so far

  • Back on the coaching carousel this November

D.J. Durkin

2018

In fall camp last year, a player died, and allegations of toxic culture under Durkin led to his suspension. He was later reinstated for a day and then fired.

2019 so far

Currently a consultant for the Atlanta Falcons.

Head coaches who stayed put

1. Mike Leach

2018

  • Basically hired by John Currie, who apparently did not have the authority to do so
  • Stayed at Washington State
  • Went 11-2 (7-2) and tied for first in the Pac-12 North
  • Beat No. 12 Oregon, No. 24 Stanford, but lost to No. 16 Washington. Beat No. 24 Iowa State in the Valero Alamo Bowl
  • Finished No. 10 in the AP and Coaches polls

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (1-5), 6th in the Pac 12 North
  • No wins over ranked teams
  • Lost five of the last six games

2. Les Miles (former head coach, unemployed in both 2017 and 2018)

2018

  • Not hired by anyone until after the season.
  • Now head coach at Kansas for 2019

2019 so far

  • Currently 3-6 (1-5), 9th in the Big 12
  • No wins over ranked teams
  • Lost five of the last six games, although this stretch includes a two-point loss to No. 15 Texas
  • Has Kansas much more competitive than in the past

3. Matt Campbell

2018

  • Remained at Iowa State as head coach
  • Went 8-5 (6-3), tied for 3rd in the Big 12
  • Beat No. 25 Oklahoma State, No. 6 West Virginia, and several others

2019 so far

  • Currently 5-4 (3-3), 4th in the Big 12
  • No wins over ranked teams
  • Two one-point losses to No. 19 Iowa and No. 9 Oklahoma

4. Mike Norvell

2018

  • Remained at Memphis as head coach
  • Went 8-6 (5-3), tied for 1st in the American West
  • No wins against ranked teams

2019 so far

  • Currently 8-1 (4-1), 3rd in the American Athletic West
  • One win over a ranked team: 54-48 over No. 15 SMU
  • Currently No. 18 in the CFP rankings

5. Gary Patterson

2018

  • Stayed at TCU as head coach
  • Went 7-6 (4-5), tied for 5th in the Big 12
  • No wins against ranked teams

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (2-4), 7th in the Big 12
  • Beat No. 15 Texas, 37-27
  • Lost to No. 12 Baylor, 29-23 in 3OT
  • All losses but one (to Iowa State) were one-possession games

6. Charlie Strong

2018

  • Stayed at South Florida as head coach
  • Went 7-6 (3-5), 4th in American East
  • No wins against ranked teams, and lost last six games

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (2-3), 4th in the American Athletic East
  • No wins over ranked teams
  • Only game against a ranked opponent resulted in a 49-0 loss to No. 19 Wisconsin
  • Two opportunities against No. 17 Cincinnati and No. 18 Memphis up next

7. P.J. Fleck

2018

  • Remained as head coach at Minnesota
  • Went 7-6 (3-6), tied for 5th in the Big 10 West
  • No wins against ranked teams

2019 so far

  • Currently 9-0 (6-0), 1st in the Big Ten West
  • One win over a ranked opponent, but it was a good one: 31-26 over No. 4 Penn State
  • Two more opportunities against ranked opponents to close out the season (No. 20 Iowa tomorrow and No. 14 Wisconsin on 11/30)

8. Justin Fuente

2018

  • Remained at Virginia Tech as head coach
  • Went 6-7 (4-4), tied for 3rd in ACC Coastal
  • Beat No. 19 Florida State, No. 22 Duke

2019 so far

  • Currently 6-3 (3-2), 3rd in the ACC Coastal
  • One win over a ranked team: 36-17 over No. 19 Wake Forest
  • One-point loss to No. 16 Notre Dame
  • Two other losses were one-possession to Boston College and a blowout loss to Duke

9. Jeff Brohm

2018

  • Remained at Purdue for his second season
  • Went 6-7 (5-4) and tied for second in the Big 10 West
  • Beat No. 2 Ohio State, No. 16 Iowa, and No. 23 Boston College, but lost to Northwestern, Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Auburn, all unranked

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-6 (3-4), 5th in the Big Ten West
  • No wins over ranked teams
  • One-possession loss to No. 23 Iowa

10. Lane Kiffin

2018

  • Remained at Florida Atlantic as head coach
  • Went 5-7 (3-5), 5th in C-USA East
  • No wins against ranked teams

2019 so far

  • Currently 7-3 (5-1), 1st in Conference USA East
  • Two losses against No. 5 Ohio State and No. 18 UCF to start the season, then 7-1 the rest of the way

11. Mike Bobo

2018

  • Remained as head coach at Colorado State
  • Sidelined by health issues early, and team went 3-9 (2-6), 5th in MWC Mountain
  • Only wins were Arkansas, San Jose State, and New Mexico

2019 so far

  • Currently 4-5 (3-2), 4th in Mountain West Mountain
  • No wins over (or losses to) ranked teams

Coordinators who stayed put (at the time)

1. Brent Venables

2018

  • Remained at Clemson as DC
  • 5th nationally, 2nd in the ACC in total defense last year

2019 so far

  • Still at Clemson as DC
  • 4th nationally, 1st in the ACC in total defense

2. Mel Tucker

2018

  • Remained at Georgia as DC. Hired as head coach at Colorado for 2019.
  • 13th nationally and 2nd in the SEC in total defense last year

2019 so far

  • First year as head coach at Colorado
  • Currently 4-6 (2-5), 6th in the Pac 12 South
  • Two wins over then-ranked teams: 34-31 OT over No. 25 Nebraska, 34-31 over then No. 24 Arizona State
  • 1-5 over the last six games
  • Colorado was 5-7 each of the past two seasons before Tucker arrived

3. Kevin Steele

2018

  • Remained at Auburn as defensive coordinator
  • 38th nationally and 8th in the SEC in total defense

2019 so far

  • Still at Auburn as DC
  • 28th nationally and 4th in the SEC in total defense

4. Tee Martin

2018

  • Remained at USC as OC; was released along with most of the staff in late November
  • 83rd nationally and 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense last season
  • Hired as a wide receivers coach at Tennessee

2019 so far

  • Still coaching wide receivers at Tennessee

Re-ranking the 2017 Tennessee coaching candidates

Based on all of that, here’s how I’d rank them as of right now:

Good bets

  1. Dan Mullen
  2. Jeremy Pruitt
  3. Jimbo Fisher
  4. Gary Patterson
  5. Matt Campbell
  6. Justin Fuente
  7. Mike Norvell
  8. Mike Leach
  9. Les Miles
  10. P.J. Fleck
  11. Joe Moorhead
  12. Jeff Brohm

Calculated risks

  1. Lane Kiffin
  2. Chip Kelly
  3. Jon Gruden
  4. Charlie Strong
  5. Scott Frost
  6. Mel Tucker
  7. Mike Bobo

Unknowns (as head coach)

  1. Brent Venables
  2. Kevin Steele
  3. Tee Martin

Goodness, what did we almost do?

  1. Chad Morris
  2. Willie Taggart
  3. Greg Schiano
  4. Bobby Petrino
  5. D.J. Durkin

Your turn

What about you? How would you rank those guys now?

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Harper M.
Harper M.
10 months ago

Great article Joel, so the logical conclusion is Jeremy Pruitt is our man?

Jayyyy
Jayyyy
10 months ago

this makes me feel even better about hiring pruitt