The Tennessee Vols are in the middle of a coaching search and essentially no one knows what’s going on with it.
That’s because recently-hired athletic director Danny White is doing his best to keep the search quiet. So far, he’s doing a tremendous job. Leaks have been minimal. Everyone is basically guessing.
But that’s not going to stop us from speculating on who Tennessee’s next coach might be.
After all, that’s the fun part of a coaching search.
There are five coaches that I feel like would either be a good fit at Tennessee or are reportedly being considered by the Vols (and again, who knows how good that information actually is).
Here’s how I’d rank those options.
5. Tony Elliott — Clemson offensive coordinator
Tony Elliott’s name has been mentioned the most by various media outlets over the last several days. But we know that Danny White likes to feed misinformation, so I’m not sure if Elliott is a legitimate candidate or not. For now, we have to assume that he is. Elliott is an impressive guy who has had a lot of success at Clemson. But he’s never been a head coach. Due to the state of the program, I think it’s imperative that Tennessee hires someone with head coaching experience. The Vols can’t hire another coach that needs to “learn on the job”.
4. PJ Fleck — Minnesota head coach
The Butch Jones comparisons with PJ Fleck are inevitable. Fleck loves to use motivational phrases like “row the boat” to inspire his players. But this guy isn’t Butch Jones. Fleck is a good coach. He’s built Minnesota into a respectable program. He’s also a former NFL wide receiver. The only downside here is that Fleck considers Greg Schiano one of the great coaching influences in his life. That could be awkward after what happened with Schiano and Tennessee in 2017. Fleck has reportedly been contacted about the job, though it’s unclear how far any talks have progressed.
3. Gus Malzahn — Former Auburn head coach
Gus Malzahn should be Tennessee’s floor. If everything else in this search goes south, the Vols should overpay for Malzahn. At the very worse, he can turn Tennessee into an eight or nine win program again. That’s better than where the program has been for the last 10 years. Malzahn is one of the few coaches in the country that owns wins over Nick Saban.
2. Matt Campbell — Iowa State head coach
I think Matt Campbell is the best fit for what Danny White is looking for in a coach. Campbell doesn’t have SEC experience, but he has plenty of head coaching experience (he was the head coach at Toledo before landing at Iowa State). He’s also an offensive-minded head coach. Campbell has been extremely impressive at Iowa State and he owns wins over Oklahoma and Texas. His ceiling at Iowa State, however, is limited. But would he leave for the Tennessee job? It seems unlikely, but if the Vols are going to swing big they have to try to make it happen.
1. Lane Kiffin — Ole Miss head coach
When I think about the best fit for what Tennessee needs, I keep coming back to Lane Kiffin. He has the swagger, the offensive mind, and the experience the Vols need. But then there’s his past with UT and it seemingly disqualifies him as an option. Still, the Vols should consider Kiffin. The Ole Miss head coach has some mutual interest, though it’s still unclear if that interest is legitimate. He could just be angling for another raise at Ole Miss. It could be tough to convince Kiffin to leave Ole Miss to take over a situation similar to what he took over at USC in 2010 (with the looming NCAA sanctions).
Featured image via USA Today/Randy Sartin