The past 24 hours have been bad ones for the University of Tennessee.
Three of the past five days, we’ve had some sort of coaching update that has featured the Volunteers prominently. It was hard to imagine how much worse it could get post-Schiano; yet, it did in one day, as coaching prospects 8 through 11 very publicly repudiated the Vols yesterday. And, despite Vols fans wanting him back, and despite direct overtures from Lane Kiffin’s camp, Tennessee refused to even speak with him (we now understand why Kiffin is relentlessly trolling Tennessee.) We found that out yesterday. Then, AD John Currie lost pitches to North Carolina State and Purdue coaches...yesterday. THEN, Currie was doxxed and chased offline, at the same time as Kevin Sumlin issued a curt “not interested” in the job. And then John Currie went incommunicado -- completely disappearing from the campus and all communication for 7 hours. Yesterday.
Only in half jest did we wonder if Rocky Top’s lyrics would be prophetic.
Turns out there was a reason for the radio silence, so to speak. And, it turns out Tennessee, may stumble into a gem of a hire after eleven failures in the span of six days: Washington State coach Mike Leach. The silence was understandable: Currie was making a transcontinental flight to freaking Los Angeles to meet the Piratical One in the early hours/late evening Friday. (I woke up at 1:00 a.m., about the same time this was breaking):
GoVols247, citing a source, reported that athletic director John Currie met with Leach on Thursday in Los Angeles.
Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports and SI.com, citing a source, reported that Tennessee's meeting with Leach on Thursday "went very well." Feldman wrote a book with Leach, "Swing Your Sword," which published in 2011. The AP, citing a source, also reported that Leach and Currie met Thursday to discuss the job.
There are a ton sources reporting this one too. But, Bruce Feldman is the man to listen to on this. Few reporters enjoy quite the relationship like the one former-ESPN/Fox Sr. CFB Analyst Bruce Feldman has with Dread Pirate Mike Leach. So, when Feldman says something “went well” or “this is a go,” he’s speaking more intimately than others.
Bruce Feldman, coincidentally, lives in LA — leaving more than enough room to speculate that he is both the Leach intermediary here and was the source cited by FootballScoop on Saturday saying that Leach would be interested in the job. (That’s my speculation by the way, must credit/sue Erik Evans, pls.)
#Tennessee coaching search update: Source tells me the meeting with Mike Leach went very well. And... stay tuned.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 1, 2017
We at RBR are as redoubtable a group of Vol haters as you will find. But, I think I speak for most ‘Bama fans when I say we have really wanted Tennessee to grow somewhat more competent than it has been the past decade. We need a better Tennessee. This span has been bad for one of the sport’s better border rivalries: not the streak itself, but the one-sided, often inept, caliber of play by the Vols has made this just another game. Worse, it has a very real effect on Alabama’s post-season positioning: Alabama could weather a down Arkansas or FSU or Tennessee — it can’t survive them all.
So, when I say I am legitimately excited for Tennessee and hope that it happens, I very much mean it. This would be a slam dunk hire by the Vols on its 12th attempt. Leach has won at every place he has ever been. He orchestrated really nasty offenses at Kentucky as Hal Mumme’s coordinator. He built a monster Oklahoma machine in the early years of Bob Stoops tenure. He turned an average Tech program around. And, he has taken the Washington State Cougars from one of the very worst in the P5 under Paul Wulff to legitimate playoff contender. There’s also the simple matter that Leach has earned a 1A-type job. Tennessee may not be a Top 20 job, aside from money and resources, but it is absolutely in the next tier. Tennessee can pay any buyout, and, as the third most-profitable athletic department in America, the Volunteers can double Leach’s salary without breaking a sweat, bludgeoning any Cougars’ counteroffer.
The SEC’s Eastern Division must improve, and the only way that happens is with quality coaching. Leach would be another quality add to a conference that has gotten better by rearranging some parts, losing others, and adding others. Leach, though, would be the best get so far of the SEC’s 2017 Silly Season. He’s highly entertaining, unafraid to stray into controversy, and, in a conference that has lost most of its characters, adds some more spice to a conference that has lost too much of its brashness and flair.
The money is there. The will is there. The timing will never be better, with Luke Falk graduating. And, as a long time critic of the SEC, it’s time for Leach to put-up or shut-up. If he thinks an SEC schedule is so easy, we invite him to play one. If he thinks his offensive scheme could eviscerate an SEC defense, now his chance. If he thinks SEC offenses are so easily stymied and “nothing special,” here’s his shot to stop one.
Make Tennessee more hateable by making it more competent. We welcome you to try, Coach Leach.
We will update this article throughout the day if there is an announcement or if Tennessee falls on its face again.
[CB969 UPDATES: The Dumpster Fire rages on!]
Sources: John Currie was prepared to hire Mike Leach but university officials wouldn’t allow him to do so. Phillip Fulmer has been sabotaging search process in hopes to become Tennessee’s AD— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 1, 2017
Former Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer will be named the Tennessee athletic director later Friday at a press conference. Final details are still being worked out on his contract.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 1, 2017
We have a live shot from Fulmer’s office: