Raw video: Dave Hart press conference on Dooley's firing
While Tennessee was losing to Vanderbilt 41-18 Saturday, Baylor was routing No. 1-ranked Kansas State 52-24. How could you ignore the connection?
Baylor has a good coach. UT needs one.
So how could the Vols not consider Baylor coach Art Briles when they begin searching for a successor to third-year coach Derek Dooley, who was fired by athletic director Dave Hart on Sunday?
Briles, who will turn 57 next month, already has rebuilt two programs; produced a Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III; and won big games other than the one Saturday night in Waco. He even has a Tennessee connection, if you're willing to stretch all the way back to high school.
He was the coach at Stephenville (Texas) High School in 1993 when Branndon Stewart was an All-American quarterback. Stewart eventually signed with the Vols but later transferred to Texas A&M after he was beaten out for the starting job as a freshman by Peyton Manning.
Stewart was one of six Division I quarterbacks developed by Briles in his Texas high school coaching career from 1979 through 1999. He also won four state championships at Stephenville.
If you read only the first 20 years of Briles' coaching resume, you would assume he ended his career as a high school hall of fame coach, which he is. But the next thing you know, he had moved up to the college ranks, and another career had begun.
When Briles became the head coach at Houston in 2003, the Cougars were only two years removed from an 0-11 season. The turnaround was immediate. Briles' first team won seven games, his fourth won 10, and in his last two seasons it won 18.
Briles also laid the foundation for the success of his Houston successor, Kevin Sumlin, now in his first season at Texas A&M.
In 2008, after five years at Houston, Briles started another rebuilding job at Baylor. And he succeeded where so many others had failed.
Even when Briles was going 4-8 in each of his first two seasons, he provided flashes of better seasons to come. His first team knocked off Texas A&M, and his second team upset Missouri.
In 2008, Briles took the Bears to their first bowl game in 16 years. Last season, Baylor went 10-3 while beating Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Missouri and TCU. It's 5-5 this season after upsetting Kansas State.
That leaves Briles at 30-25 in five seasons at Baylor. You need to know something about the program's history to fully appreciate that record. In the 11 seasons before Briles, Baylor was 31-94. In eight of those seasons, it won three or fewer games.
Briles hasn't just dramatically upgraded two college programs. He has advanced his reputation as a quarterbacks guru while coaching Case Keenum, Kevin Kolb and Kliff Kingsbury in addition to Griffin. Kolb, like Griffin, was a first-round NFL draft pick.
UT athletic director Dave Hart made it clear how much he values head-coaching experience in a conference as demanding as this one. He also addressed the challenge that the SEC presents.
"This is the ultimate challenge that competitors embrace for a football coach," he said. "If you are a competitor and you want to prove your worth, come to the Southeastern Conference and Tennessee."
Briles proved his worth as a Texas high school state-championship coach. He proved himself again by turning around dismal programs at Houston and Baylor.
UT should find out if he still has something to prove.