Mike Strange: Plenty of first-time head coaches have won big

From the Jon Gruden Has Other Plans Department, a humble thought on Option B.

The University of Tennessee football fan base expects one conclusion from the search for a new head coach:

That Dave Hart make a home-run hire.

Anything short of that won't do. The program and those who bleed orange on its behalf have suffered long enough.

Gruden would have been a home-run hire. Despite any real evidence to support it, he might be yet.

Bob Stoops of Oklahoma would have been a home-run hire. By all appearances he will remain a Sooner for the foreseeable future.

From there, it gets tricky. Define home-run hire.

OK, I will. A home-run hire is anyone who will deliver a high level of success over a period of time.

And I mean anyone.

Winning the press conference is fine. But winning SEC football games on a frequent basis over the long haul is finer.

Hart, UT's search committee of one, should hire the best candidate, household name or not.

Hart stated up front that experience as a head coach is high on his list. Makes sense. If Nick Saban wins at LSU, he probably wins at Alabama. If Brian Kelly wins at Cincinnati it's somewhat of a predictor he'll win at Notre Dame.

But just to play devil's advocate, why delete the entire pool of candidates who lack head-coaching experience?

Nobody has won bigger than Chris Peterson the past half-decade. Anybody would hire him now. Boise State was smart enough to promote him in 2006 rather than insist on an outsider with head-coaching experience.

Closer to home, hasn't Dan Mullen improved Mississippi State? Hasn't James Franklin worked a small miracle at Vanderbilt?

Granted, Tennessee aspires to be a bigger fish in the SEC pond than State or Vandy. Its tradition and budget suggest elite expectations.

Yeah, well, ditto for Georgia. I don't think the Bulldogs regret hiring inexperienced Mark Richt in 2001.

Ditto for Oklahoma. I don't think the Sooners regret hiring inexperienced Stoops in 1999.

And Will Muschamp seems to be a quick study at Florida.

Two of Tennessee's most successful coaches, Doug Dickey and Phillip Fulmer had no prior head-coaching experience.

Dickey, it's worth noting, inherited a program in 1964 that was in sadder shape than this one. Learning on the job didn't seem to slow him down.

Bottom line, there are several avenues to find the coach to improve the bottom line.

Judging strictly on the press conference, you can't tell a home-run hire from a long foul ball. It takes time.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 25

CactusJack writes:

Gruden isn't coming, if he does I would be surprised, he may return to coaching, but I suspect it will be in the NFL, maybe Philadelphia...if I were UT, I would eat crow and hire Coach Fulmer back and let him build a staff, or hire John Chavis, both Tennessee guys.

10Vol85 writes:

"Two of Tennessee's most successful coaches, Doug Dickey and Phillip Fulmer had no prior head-coaching experience."

And then there's that Neyland fellow you might have heard tale of. He was pretty good ;)

10Vol85 writes:

I'm sorry. It's just that if you're going to discuss successful head coaches with no prior experience, don't leave out the one that lost only 2 games in his first 7 years.

OrangePride writes:

And on a somewhat different planet; anyone remember when UT hired that totally unheard of women's basketball coach with no HC experience? She seems to have worked out OK also.

asleep#212036 writes:

I couldn't agree more. So many fans are wanting to win the PR battle with Auburn and Arkansas and are too worried about what troll bloggers/fans from other schools think. Of the current Top 20 BCS ranked schools, thirteen - Georgia, Florida, Kansas State, Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida State, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Kent State, Michigan, and Boise State - hired someone with no prior D-1 experience. Add to that UCLA who hired a former NFL coach with no prior college HC experience. Our last 4 coaches are split, two with experience (Majors and Dooley) and two without (Fulmer and Kiffin). Majors won elsewhere and won here. Dooley lost elsewhere and lost here. Kiffin was dishonorable at Oakland and was dishonorable here. Fulmer was a great assistant who turned into, at least for the first 10 years, a great HC. Let's find someone who can win games and forget winning the PR battle. HC, NFL guy, coordinator, mid-major, Madden 2012 god, whatever it takes.... Go Vols!!!

asleep#212036 writes:

in response to OrangePride:

And on a somewhat different planet; anyone remember when UT hired that totally unheard of women's basketball coach with no HC experience? She seems to have worked out OK also.

Even more impressive, she had NO coaching experience at all! She had just graduated from UT Martin and they hired her. Took over a 25-2 team that graduated several players and missed the AIAW playoffs the first couple of seasons, 1974-76. Made the playoffs in 1977 and every year following (I think). The NCAA sanctioned a women's tournament for the 1982-83 season, and we have been a fixture ever since. It is a real shame for every sports fan that her career ended so tragically over a health issue. I'm afraid Auriemma will eventually break her NCAA championship mark but he will never replace her legacy as the woman who put women's sports on the front page, not only at UT, but everywhere. What a privilege to have had her as our coach all those years. Go Vols!!!

snafu14u#241639 writes:

Two more names 1) Baylor coach Briles 2) SMU coach June Jones. And the Defensive Coordinator is almost as important. Bonzaivol

jae1622 writes:

in response to CactusJack:

Gruden isn't coming, if he does I would be surprised, he may return to coaching, but I suspect it will be in the NFL, maybe Philadelphia...if I were UT, I would eat crow and hire Coach Fulmer back and let him build a staff, or hire John Chavis, both Tennessee guys.

Unbelievable!

VolnTex writes:

in response to asleep#212036:

I couldn't agree more. So many fans are wanting to win the PR battle with Auburn and Arkansas and are too worried about what troll bloggers/fans from other schools think. Of the current Top 20 BCS ranked schools, thirteen - Georgia, Florida, Kansas State, Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida State, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Kent State, Michigan, and Boise State - hired someone with no prior D-1 experience. Add to that UCLA who hired a former NFL coach with no prior college HC experience. Our last 4 coaches are split, two with experience (Majors and Dooley) and two without (Fulmer and Kiffin). Majors won elsewhere and won here. Dooley lost elsewhere and lost here. Kiffin was dishonorable at Oakland and was dishonorable here. Fulmer was a great assistant who turned into, at least for the first 10 years, a great HC. Let's find someone who can win games and forget winning the PR battle. HC, NFL guy, coordinator, mid-major, Madden 2012 god, whatever it takes.... Go Vols!!!

You hit the nail on the head! This whole thing has turned into "what will everyone else think about us" and making the biggest splash possible. In this sort of environment PR generally wins out over wisdom.

CrankE writes:

"Judging strictly on the press conference, you can't tell a home-run hire from a long foul ball. It takes time."

Judging from this column, you can't tell which sports metaphors are being mixed and to what end. It's like a 4th and 12 with a full court press coming down the slopes towards the checkered flag in overtime.

Plenty of first-time aspiring journalists with no formal training might do as well as more experienced sportswriters too.

david_light_38230#225602 writes:

in response to asleep#212036:

Even more impressive, she had NO coaching experience at all! She had just graduated from UT Martin and they hired her. Took over a 25-2 team that graduated several players and missed the AIAW playoffs the first couple of seasons, 1974-76. Made the playoffs in 1977 and every year following (I think). The NCAA sanctioned a women's tournament for the 1982-83 season, and we have been a fixture ever since. It is a real shame for every sports fan that her career ended so tragically over a health issue. I'm afraid Auriemma will eventually break her NCAA championship mark but he will never replace her legacy as the woman who put women's sports on the front page, not only at UT, but everywhere. What a privilege to have had her as our coach all those years. Go Vols!!!

Very well stated . . . I would also add that this HC ran a program that graduated its players and maintained a clean record with the NCAA. Everyone in the coaching business should try to mirror Coach Summit's program!!!

GO VOLS!!!

HopeisNotaCourseofAction writes:

in response to CrankE:

"Judging strictly on the press conference, you can't tell a home-run hire from a long foul ball. It takes time."

Judging from this column, you can't tell which sports metaphors are being mixed and to what end. It's like a 4th and 12 with a full court press coming down the slopes towards the checkered flag in overtime.

Plenty of first-time aspiring journalists with no formal training might do as well as more experienced sportswriters too.

You hit the nail on the head! (sorry for carpentry metaphor, couldn't think of another sports one)

RealisticVol writes:

I was watching before Dickey came and the Vols were in a sad state. That said, they were not in worse shape than now. This is the absolute bottom for a hundred years of Vol football. Before Dicky we still won a big game occasionally and we did not lose as many per year. We gambled on unknowns twice now. Enough is enough.

fullspectrumvol writes:

Does anyone remember when we hired TWO coaches with head coaching experience BOTH with losing records and had the most wonderful seasons ever? I sure don't. I feel like a kid in denial after finding out santa is really my drunken uncle Mike with this whole Gruden thing. i keep wanting to believe this Gruden will happen, but ol Uncle Mike keeps falling through the screen door shouting obscenities.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

" I don't think the Bulldogs regret hiring inexperienced Mark Richt in 2001."

Wait until Bama demolishes them. Richt is very Fulmer-esque in his ability to do just enough to avoid getting fired but never enough to get UGA to the promised land. He'll choke in the SEC championship game and then we'll see how happy UGA fans are with him.

As for the whole premise of this article, you can flip it on its head and say MOST first time coaches fail and therefore we shouldn't ever hire a first time coach.

Going after a winning coach with experience is all about managing the risk that attaches to any new hire. Gruden is gone. Ok. It's done. No other coach is going to have the buzz and name recognition to attract the four and five star recruits it will take to beat UF, LSU, and Bama. Hart better find someone that knows the Xs and Os of football because we will not be getting the Jimmys and Joes with our next hire.

If he wants to risk all of that on a coordinator, then we'll see how well that works out.

Right now, Petrino is the only coach that could come in and win with the talent we have. Fedora might do ok if given three years. Fisher has done nothing but underachieve for years at FSU despite having top 5 recruiting classes every year. If we bring him to TN, we'll be once again wondering why a Saban disciple didn't pan out. Al Golden is Dooley 2.0. Strong would be an interesting choice and so would Jim Mora, Jr. Still, I think they will ultimately lead us back to mediocrity.

It will be interesting to see what Dave Hart does. Personally, I think Hart is set on Fisher. We'll pay out the nose for him and he'll have a huge buyout...get ready to be right back here in three years with even less money.

SummittsCourt writes:

Gruden - says no thanks without an offical offer
Cutcliff - says no thanks without even being asked (as if)
Stoops - says he is staying in Oklahoma
Fisher - says he is staying at FSU
Golden - says he is committed to Miami - better for UT

Remaining list

Strong - BCS bowl bound twice in 3 years
Patterson - Big 12 move not withstanding, consistent 10 win seasons and has proven he can beat the big boys
Mora, Jr. - doing what neuhesial couldn't is one win away from BCS bowl

Any of these 3 would be good hires and would win in the SEC.

traderjoe writes:

Strange sounds like he's preparing Vol nation for Dooley2. Hire Petrino and get it over with.

voodoo101 writes:

Every good head coach made that big step somewhere, but at one time there were coaches like Frank Broyles who turned out coaches. Now - maybe because of the immediate demands for success and the turmoil in college coaching - there doesn't seem to be that line of pedigreed coaches in waiting. The impression is that many successful coaches like Saban don't teach or develop - they dictate.

whistler74 writes:

The answer for us is not Gruden as far as I can tell. There would be benefits to recuiting but the NFL and the entire ecosystem of being a college coach are very different. That doesn't, of course, mean Gruden would necessarily be a bad college coach, but it does mean that it is a big risk. I cannot believe more folks are not going crazy for Charlie Strong. Whoever gets that guy is getting what seems to be a great recruiter and phenomenal coach in the making. I would like to see him or Jimbo Fisher, but Strong is beginning to surpass Fisher in my mind for the best candidate. If Hart is intelligent in leading this search he will go really hard after Strong and/or Fisher.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Joker Phillips and Ron Zook had no head coaching experience. Neither did Mike Dubose at Alabama. Come to think of it, Orgeron had never been a head coach before Ole Miss, had he? Also, the prior Vanderbilt coach, Robbie Caldwell had never been a head coach. I think we should roll the dice, what could go wrong?

VirginnyVol writes:

The Vol Nation needs to get over the Gruden pipe-dream. We need a coach with a desire to prove himself by building a winning program, not a CELEBRITY that is larger than "The Program". Let's hope we get a blue collar guy that we can all stand behind and be proud of.

BMSvol writes:

in response to traderjoe:

Strange sounds like he's preparing Vol nation for Dooley2. Hire Petrino and get it over with.

i will quit buying tickets if vols hire petrino.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

in response to traderjoe:

Strange sounds like he's preparing Vol nation for Dooley2. Hire Petrino and get it over with.

No doubt that he's the best available coach. He made a mistake in his personal life, and paid a heavy price for it. All the sanctimonious fans who never made a mistake won't like the hire, but I hope Hart has the courage to sign him. No matter who he picks, there will be a group of fans who won't like it. I would rather disappoint the sanctimonious fans than any other group.

phantomphixer writes:

in response to CactusJack:

Gruden isn't coming, if he does I would be surprised, he may return to coaching, but I suspect it will be in the NFL, maybe Philadelphia...if I were UT, I would eat crow and hire Coach Fulmer back and let him build a staff, or hire John Chavis, both Tennessee guys.

Shall I say it again, Daryl Dickey

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to civilianvol_formerly_marinevol:

Joker Phillips and Ron Zook had no head coaching experience. Neither did Mike Dubose at Alabama. Come to think of it, Orgeron had never been a head coach before Ole Miss, had he? Also, the prior Vanderbilt coach, Robbie Caldwell had never been a head coach. I think we should roll the dice, what could go wrong?

Bill Battle had no head coaching experience, either. And look how well he turned out.

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