At this point, there’s no sugar-coating it — Butch Jones will eventually be fired by the University of Tennessee.
Whether the athletic department is waiting to name an interim after this week’s matchup against Alabama or is just afraid of bringing one in all together at the risk of having an underwhelming candidate, Jones will surely be canned by the end of the season.
It’s at the point where there is more speculation about who will replace Jones rather than whether he will be able to keep the job.
SEC Network host and UT alum Paul Finebaum gave his list of potential candidates he thinks Tennessee should reach out to during his weekly Monday appearance on WJOX’s Morning Drive.
“I still think Jon Gruden is the swing in the dark at the piñata and hope to hit. I was with a couple of former players of Gruden yesterday and people that have worked with him. Nobody believes that Jon Gruden has any interest in recruiting. They just think it’s ‘oh hey, give me the job.’ Jon Gruden may not be what everyone thinks he is.
“So, then, you get to Chip Kelly. I do not think Chip Kelly is a realistic possibility. I think Chip Kelly probably has his eyes more out West. Is it Bobby Petrino? It certainly looks like his team is acting like Petrino has taken another job, doesn’t it? And then, do you go for Mike Gundy again, a Charlie Strong or a Justin Fuente? I know I gave you about six or seven names. But I don’t think we really know. That’s probably an uneducated answer, but it’s the best one I have.”
Gruden’s past ties to the Tennessee football program have led Vol fans to believe that the former Super Bowl winning coach could possibly take over on Rocky Top.
Gruden began his career as a graduate assistant with the Vols under Johnny Majors in 1986-87. His wife, Cindy, was a Volunteer cheerleader and, as several Twitter users pointed out, his son apparently attends UT.
The Monday Night Football broadcaster has also referred to the head coaching position at Tennessee as a “dream job” on numerous occasions and expressed interest in coaching again, although he’s also downplayed the notion of coaching at the college level.
Kelly led Oregon to a 46-7 (33-3 Pac-12) overall record from 2009-2012, which included four BCS bowl game appearances, three Pac-12 conference championships and a BCS title game appearance in 2010.
Those have long been the top choices for Tennessee fans, but the other names Finebaum mentioned could also provide some interest.
Gundy has turned Oklahoma State into a national contender with the Cowboys currently holding a No. 10 overall ranking. Petrino may have a horrible off-field reputation, but there’s no denying his success during both of his stints at Louisville, as well as his past success in the SEC at Arkansas.
Strong was a favorite to land the Tennessee job in 2012, but decided to return to Louisville and eventually join Texas, which led to a disappointing tenure in Austin. However, he’s managed to lead USF to a 6-0 record during his first season and could get another chance with a bigger program after the season.
Whether or not Tennessee gets any of these coaches or someone else, the thought has to be more enticing than another season with Jones and his catchphrases.