Jim Chaney speaks as Vols interim head coach
Tennessee is about to get an assessment of its program. Coaching searches do that.
Who's interested? Who isn't?
And who would become interested if you threw enough money their way?
It shouldn't take long to find out now that the Vols have begun the process of hiring a replacement for coach Derek Dooley, who was fired Sunday.
Three years ago, they began the same process after one-year coach Lane Kiffin left for Southern California in January. When they hired Dooley, he was in the third year of his first head-coaching job at Louisiana Tech, where he had a losing record.
That gives you an idea of where UT stood at the time, as well as to how much it was willing to offer.
It's in better standing now, thanks to Dooley's recruiting. And it also should be in a spending mood.
Tennessee has had five losing seasons in eight years. It hasn't won more than seven games since 2007. This is no time for bargain shopping.
A photo of the Neyland Stadium crowd at the Tennessee-Troy game is proof of that. Athletic director Dave Hart should frame it and put it on his wall until he hires a new coach.
He obviously needs a coach who already has proved himself at the college or the pro level. But how many of those coaches would be interested in the Vols?
The answer will vary depending on how much Tennessee is willing to pay.
Although UT has been stumbling around the bottom of the SEC for the last couple of years, it's still a top-20 job, maybe slightly better.
I didn't have to think hard to come up with 14 programs that currently are more appealing than UT's for various reasons.
Five of those schools — Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida — are in the SEC, and UT has to play three of them every year. Other schools on that list: Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, Southern California, Oregon, Nebraska, Florida State and Notre Dame.
Coaches probably would add more schools to the list, especially when they consider that Dooley had only three years to turn around the program.
The SEC is a daunting proposition for anybody. The Vols' challenge is exacerbated by having Alabama as their annual non-divisonal opponent. But it's also easier to recruit to this conference, which is the closest thing to the NFL that an aspiring pro football player will find.
Tennessee's facilities are great. The fans are fantastic. And the stadium is an eye-catcher.
You have to rely on regional and national recruiting, though. That's a bigger challenge now than when coaches Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer were winning big in the 1990s.
The East was tough enough when Florida began winning national titles and Mark Richt stabilized Georgia. Now, you can make the case that Steve Spurrier has made South Carolina a better job than UT's.
Auburn is down now and is the No. 2 school in its own state. But it has had two unbeaten seasons and a national championship in the last eight years.
Arkansas has won 11 more games than UT has the past five years. It also has been willing to shell out more money for coaches, which is something to consider in that it has a coaching search of its own to conduct.
Mississippi State has won six more games than UT in the past five years. Despite winning only two games in 2011, even Ole Miss has won more games than Tennessee in the past five years. Kentucky, UT's opponent Saturday in the Vols' season finale, has won just as many.
Coaching candidates will have to weigh UT's current failure against its longtime success.
From 1985 through 2004, it won fewer than eight games only twice. From 1965 through 1973, it never won fewer than eight games.
In 1950-51, it was 21-2 and won a national title. In 1938-40, it was 31-2.
All that success in all those different decades won't be lost on a coaching candidate. Neither will the expectations that accompany it.
The history will add to the job's appeal. A huge contract will make those expectations less of a concern.