When the Auburn Tigers fired Gus Malzahn earlier this month, the assumption made by many (including myself) was that his replacement was already lined up.
That proved to be incorrect.
Auburn is entering 2017 Tennessee coaching search territory (albeit with much less craziness). It appears that the Tigers are going to strike out on most of their top targets.
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said thanks but no thanks. Louisiana head coach Billy Napier interviewed but then withdrew his name from consideration.
Former Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze doesn’t appear to be an option, either.
That means that Auburn is having to zero in on names like Kevin Steele, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables (a name that’s always mentioned in coaching searches, but he never leaves Clemson), and UAB head coach Bill Clark (would be a good hire, but probably wouldn’t generate a ton of excitement).
Vol fans are probably giggling at Auburn’s struggles to find a new head coach after firing Malzahn, who has never had a losing season as a head coach.
But they shouldn’t laugh too hard.
Auburn’s current struggles should be a cautionary tale. If you fire a head coach, you better be certain of who the next guy is going to be.
If Tennessee fires Jeremy Pruitt, they could end up in a similar position as Auburn. It’s a road that UT has traveled before. And it’s the very reason the program hasn’t had much success over the last decade.
Let’s say the Vols fire Pruitt due to his 3-7 season and the internal investigation that’s currently taking place at Tennessee.
That investigation means Freeze almost certainly won’t be hired (even without the investigation I seriously doubt the Vols would hire him).
Malzahn would be a great hire for Tennessee. Probably the safest hire they could make. But let’s say he wants to take some time off after getting canned at Auburn (he’s getting a fat buyout check, so I wouldn’t blame him).
Then Tennessee pivots to Napier. He’s from Cookeville, TN, but that doesn’t mean he’s absolutely going to take the UT job if offered. Maybe he really does like coaching at Louisiana. If he says no, then we’re at Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell, another Tennessee native who is a hot name in the coaching world right now.
I could see Chadwell saying yes. And I think it would be a disaster for Tennessee.
Don’t get me wrong — Chadwell is obviously a good coach — but he’s not going to be a fit at Tennessee.
Chadwell’s offense is complex and takes time to install. Remember when UT tried to install Dave Clawson’s offense in 2008? It’s basicall what got Phillip Fulmer fired. That’s likely how this would go with Chadwell. It would be fine after a couple of years, but I’m not sure UT fans would give Chadwell a couple of years to get it right.
Here’s how Chadwell’s offense was recently described by TheState.com:
His teams run the spread-option offense that some have deemed “quirky and funky.” The offense uses one- and two-back sets and uses old-school option concepts but is run mainly out of the shotgun.
Here’s how Napier described Chadwell’s offense in 2018:
They’re a little bit unique in how they do it. They’re a spread team that features some of those same concepts — very similar to an Air Force in that regard, not necessarily the under-center triple that you maybe see Army and Navy doing.
I don’t see that going well at Tennessee. It could work, but it would likely take a couple of 4-5 win seasons to get there. It’s not like Chadwell is going to show up at UT and start leading the Vols to 10 win seasons from day one.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to see how another coaching search could be a disaster for Tennessee. All it takes is a couple of folks to say no and the whole thing snowballs out of control.
For now, Pruitt hasn’t lost the locker room, which is about the only positive thing happening on Rocky Top at the moment.
Perhaps that’s what ends up saving his job.
Featured image via USA TODAY