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Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee fans should take the coaching rumors revolving around their football program as a compliment.
When Washington State went looking for a football coach, not even an Internet poster suggested Jon Gruden might leave Monday Night Football for Pullman, Wash.
And not even Bob Stoops' agent hinted off the record to a media-type that his client would feel more appreciated somewhere like Washington State than at Oklahoma.
Maybe UT can't hire a big-name coach. But it at least can sustain the rumor of a big-name coach.
That's a tribute to Tennessee football, especially when you consider the program has suffered three consecutive seven-loss seasons for the first time in school history.
It also tells me Tennessee isn't bargain shopping since it would have to pay Nick Saban-like money to either Gruden or Stoops.
This isn't just about money, though.
Gruden has spent his career in the NFL, first as a successful coach and now as a successful television analyst. He surely could coach college football. He also could recruit, in part, on name recognition alone. And what aspiring quarterback wouldn't want to have Gruden as a mentor?
But there's so much peripheral stuff attached to college coaching. The 20-hour work week for student-athletes would be daunting enough for a football junkie like Gruden, especially since throughout his NFL career he demonstrated a fondness for veteran players.
Stoops' situation is entirely different. In his 14 seasons at Oklahoma, he has been one of the most successful coaches in the country. He's well versed in what it takes to win at the highest level in a competitive conference. He's also well aware of the expectations such success fosters.
He and his former boss and longtime friend, Steve Spurrier, can compare notes on the subject.
After dominating the SEC and winning a national title at Florida, Spurrier's last five years with the Gators weren't as rewarding, so he left for the NFL. When that didn't work out, he returned to college coaching at South Carolina, where a bowl game was once regarded as a crowning achievement.
He has exceeded expectations at South Carolina, further enhanced his coaching legacy and gained the kind of appreciation from his fan base that he had at the height of his Florida dynasty.
But you can't equate Spurrier's transition to what Stoops' would be in going from Oklahoma to UT.
Tennessee isn't South Carolina. Despite the current stretch of failure, UT fans would be only briefly satisfied with 7-5 and 8-4 seasons. They want to compete for championships, even though their program's in-state recruiting base — coupled with its recent lack of success — now puts Tennessee at a disadvantage against the SEC's powerhouse programs.
Don't get the wrong idea. If Stoops came to UT's rescue, he would be treated as a conquering hero. How long that would last would depend on the program's progress.
It's much easier to list reasons why either Gruden or Stoops wouldn't be interested in the UT job than why they would. But that shouldn't discourage Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart from persistently pursuing them.
There's no shame in being turned down by either one of them. The effort would mean more than the rejection.
If this coaching search eventually ends up with a lesser hire, it's crucial that Hart explain how high he set his sights and to what lengths he went to meet them.
The fans deserve that much.