NEW YORK — Tennessee's search for a football coach moved to a glitzy hotel in Manhattan on Monday night, but it was unclear whether athletic director Dave Hart had more work to do or was putting the finishing touches on his two-week-old quest.
Originally, Hart had said he planned to talk to candidates this week at the National Football Foundation's annual awards dinner, a de-facto convention of college coaches and athletic directors. But an active week involving several high-profile targets could bring the search to a conclusion sooner than expected.
Many coaches and their wives were in town a day early for an evening of receptions at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Monday night, but neither Hart nor any of his reported candidates were among those seen milling about the ornate lobby.
Away from New York, however, it was a busy day in Tennessee's search for a coach to replace Derek Dooley.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who has expressly denied multiple reports that he has spoken to Auburn and Tennessee about their vacant positions, raised eyebrows Monday when he criticized Cardinals fans for lack of support.
"We're 9-0 (actually 9-1) and we don't even pack the stadium," Strong said according to a report on WDRB-TV. "What more do we need to do?"
When Strong was asked directly if he would return to Louisville in 2013, he replied, " I will say that at the right time."
Meanwhile, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, also thought to be a candidate at Auburn and at Tennessee, could be staying put. His whereabouts have been scrupulously monitored since the Seminoles beat Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game Saturday night. He doesn't appear to have met with officials from Tennessee, and according to reports in Tallahassee he wasn't believed to be going to New York.
The window for Fisher's candidacy could be shutting. Fisher has professed his commitment to FSU and said he had no plans to leave.
"I won't even discuss other job opportunities with my agent," he said last week as the rumors started to heat up. "I am focused on these players and this team. We are happy here."
That leaves Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy as the lone remaining mystery. Unlike some other candidates, Gundy hasn't denied interest.
He was asked Sunday about reports that he interviewed with Tennessee and was also in the mix for the Arkansas job.
"I would never talk about any other jobs or any confirmation of anything that's gone on," Gundy said. "I would prefer to not talk about anything other than Oklahoma State and the bowl game."
He said he spent the day "around the house," another indication that he made no effort to hide the interview by meeting at a neutral site — or say, in New York.
Some believe that Gundy is using the possible interviews for leverage — both he and Fisher are represented by superagent Jimmy Sexton — but he signed a new contract worth an average of $3.75 million annually just last year.
Are there are other potential candidates? Almost certainly. But if Hart has already settled on his man, they may not be necessary.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.