Although Tennessee has yet to announce football coach Derek Dooley will not return for a fourth season, let's not get bogged down with formalities. At some point, Tennessee will announce the obvious, and the pursuit of another coach finally will become official.
Some fans apparently believe the pursuit already has succeeded, and that Jon Gruden has agreed to become the next coach once a few trivial details are worked out. I applaud the possibility in that Gruden would give UT a Super Bowl-winning coach as well as a national celebrity — not a bad combination for a football program whose relevance is receding by the game.
In fact, hiring Gruden make so much sense, I would be OK with him bringing along Mike Tirico, his booth buddy on "Monday Night Football," as defensive coordinator. And if they want to coach Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, so much the better.
But suppose, for some bizarre reason, the Gruden-to-Tennessee deal falls through. Then, where would UT athletic director Dave Hart look?
Hint: As of this writing, Bobby Petrino is still out of work (he won't be for long).
I realize some people are offended by the circumstances that resulted in the former Arkansas coach being unemployed. The synopsis: He had an affair with a young woman whom he also put on the back of his motorcycle as well as the athletic department's payroll. One more thing: He lied about the relationship to his boss.
Counterpoint: He wins games. Lots of them.
In weighing Petrino's off-the-field baggage against his on-the-field success, it's worth noting that he isn't the first prominent coach to socialize with a woman outside his immediate household. It's also worth mentioning that lying is simply a business technique for most coaches.
But it's not as though you would be asking Petrino to marry you or baby-sit your kids. You would just be asking him to do a job.
Do you check the integrity of your pest-control guy? Do you do a background check on your roofer? And in your last conscious thought before the anesthesia is administered, do you wonder about your surgeon's character or his skill?
I don't mean to dismiss integrity as a virtue. I just want to put the situation in perspective.
UT football is in danger of falling off the national map. It's on the verge of four losing seasons in five years. It can't afford to make the wrong hire.
Based on what Petrino accomplished at Arkansas, UT would be foolish not to consider him. He faced some of the same challenges there that he would face at Tennessee yet succeeded quickly and dramatically, improving Arkansas' record in each of his four seasons and taking it to a No. 5 national ranking in his last year.
Whom else that UT could get (not counting Gruden, of course) has better credentials for the UT job?
There's nothing wrong with Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville's credentials, unless you are disturbed by the video that shows him slapping an assistant coach upside the headphones during Saturday's victory over Kansas. Of course, some UT fans might find that appealing, given their current lack of affection for UT's defensive staff.
Tuberville rebuilt Ole Miss from the ruins of NCAA probation in the late 1990s. He led Auburn to an unbeaten season in 2004 and is 20-15 in three seasons at Texas Tech. Moreover, he's good in big games — and against big-time coaches (see Nick Saban for details).
Maybe UT would prefer someone younger (Tuberville is 58). But I would be more concerned about a coach's lack of experience than his age.
UT should be looking for someone who has proved himself in a couple of programs, not for a couple of seasons.
This isn't a job for an up-comer. Tennessee needs a proven winner.
And if the coach is a proven winner in the SEC, that's even better.