NEW YORK – New Tennessee athletic director Phil Fulmer strolled through the lobby of the Hilton here in midtown in a suit coat with a leather NFL satchel slung over his shoulder. When offered congratulations on his new job as Tennessee’s athletic director, Fulmer smiled and delivered a line that appeared well rehearsed: “I don’t know if it’s congratulations or condolences.”
The National Football Foundation dinner here on Tuesday night doubles as an unofficial convention for the sport. There’s lobby loitering, $12 Amstel Lights and an endless buzz of gossip rippling through the lobby.
Here’s the latest from the ground on the college coaching carousel.
School officials met with Oregon coach Willie Taggart in Arizona on Monday, according to a source. A decision was not expected on Monday night whether or not Taggart, who has been a top target of school officials all along, will leave the Ducks and head back to his native Florida.
Taggart has enjoyed Eugene, and there’s been a strong push – both financial and otherwise – for him to stay there. If money is an issue, Oregon isn’t going to be out-bid.
But the reality of this job is that Florida State has proven the past three decades to have the ability to be an annual contender for the national title. Oregon has shown the ability to only compete occasionally.
It would be surprising if Taggart doesn’t end up in his native state, but there is a strong pull to the team he’s coached and recruiting class he’s put together at Oregon. Often times, bottom-line chances to win at the highest levels beats out essentiality in coaching decisions.
For better or worse, this is Fulmer’s search. Other than having coached football, Fulmer really has no qualifications to run a coaching search. Coming to New York and running it while the Football Foundation is going on shows that Fulmer’s knowledge of how the world works traces back to an era of flip phones as opposed to smart phones.
So who would be likely candidates? Look for coaches who would fit in Fulmer’s mold. He’s keen on younger candidates and has shown a lean toward defensive ones. Look for SEC coordinators like Georgia’s Mel Tucker and Auburn’s Kevin Steele to be targets, as Fulmer will value experience in the league.
Mike Leach’s name has cooled considerably here. The only thing more certain than Tennessee not hiring Jon Gruden is that Fulmer won’t hire Lane Kiffin, as he was not impressed by Kiffin’s year in Knoxville. (He wasn’t the only one, but there’s a strong disdain there.)
Other names that could end up being bandied around are SMU’s Chad Morris, Toledo’s Jason Candle and Memphis coach Mike Norvell. Former LSU coach Les Miles is not a candidate.
This one appears to be wide open, as athletic director Hunter Yurachek was just announced on Monday. That will give the search some clear direction, as Yurachek comes to Fayetteville from Houston.
What are the names? Yurachek is expected to target SMU coach Chad Morris, who has been a popular name in this coaching cycle. Yurachek’s AAC familiarity should also keep Memphis coach Mike Norvell’s name in the mix.
Washington State’s Mike Leach has a better chance at this job than Tennessee. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen has been a popular name here as well. But some of the direction of this search should be determined as Yurachek finds his sea legs in his first few days on the job.
Fox’s Bruce Feldman reported that Clemson co-coordinator Tony Elliott and UCF assistant Troy Walters have emerged as candidates. Their names and Toledo’s Jason Candle have been among the most prominent.
Former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin had been strongly mentioned for this job early in the cycle, but his candidacy appears to have passed. As one Yahoo Sports source with knowledge of the search put it: “That ship has sailed.”
This is the best job in the country outside of a Power Five conference, and there’s a long list of assistants and head coaches anxious for a shot.
It’s worth beginning to speculate on Oregon, as the prospect of Taggart leaving appears imminent. The best guess here is Kevin Sumlin, who’d quickly emerged and faded as a candidate at UCF. Could Sumlin have been slow-playing the Knights for a better gig?
Among the candidates involved in Oregon’s search last year were Greg Schiano, P.J. Fleck and Matt Rhule. It would be interesting to see if the Ducks went back to any of them. Another name that would fit well here is Memphis coach Mike Norvell, as his wide-open style and quick tempo would satisfy Ducks fans accustomed to the Chip Kelly era.