Tennessee’s next head coach: Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly?

Brian KellySince Phillip Fulmer made the decision to step down at the end of the year, speculation has run rampant on who will replace him as the next head coach at the University of Tennessee. While The Oregonian suggests that Oregon State’s Mike Riley could be in line for the position, I’ve got another name to keep your eye on: Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly.

Five years ago, Kelly was a nobody winning multiple Division II championships at little old Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there, he was hired at Central Michigan University, which had won more than three games only once in the previous four seasons. After finishing with a 4-7 record in 2004 (his first year in Mt. Pleasant) and 6-5 in 2005, Kelly led the Chippewas to a MAC Championship in 2006 before jetting to Cincinnati before coaching CMU in the 2006 Motor City Bowl.

In his first season at Cincinnati, Kelly led the Bearcats to their second ever 10-win season (first since 1949) and a top 25 ranking. He was named Big East Coach of the Year and currently has the Bearcats ranked 19th in the nation despite having to play a total of four different quarterbacks this season due to injury.

Tennessee needs a confident, offensive-minded leader and Kelly fits the bill. Many in the Mt. Pleasant area hate him for the way he left CMU in the lurch after winning the MAC Championship in 2006, but the fact of the matter is that he made that program relative again (the Chips are going for their third straight MAC title this season). He was the one that converted Joe Staley (who is currently starting for the 49ers right now) from tight end to offensive tackle, and also the one who recruited Heisman candidate Dan LeFevour. And the job Kelly has done at Cincinnati in his two years has been remarkable to say the least.

When talking to people who have worked with him in the past (like Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun columnist and Central Michigan beat writer Drew Ellis, who is a close friend of mine), you get the impression that Kelly is a cocky, but confident coach. The Vols need someone headstrong that can turn the program around in only a few short years. No offense to Riley or any other candidate Tennessee may consider, but Kelly has won everywhere he’s gone and he seems like a coach that can light a fire under that program’s ass.

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Tennessee is an absolute mess

Tennessee VolsIt’s one thing to lose to Georgia, Alabama or South Carolina. Those teams are in the SEC. It’s quite another to lose to a MWC team – not to mention a bad MWC team.

The Tennessee Volunteers reached a new low Saturday after they lost at home 13-7 to Wyoming. The Vols managed just 219 total yards of offense, including only 118 through the air. They were held to single digits for the third game in a row and their seven points was their fewest in a non-conference game since 2002 when Miami beat them 26-3.

It’s not that Wyoming has a terrible defense (they did rank 39th in the nation coming into this game), but to only score seven points is against an inferior opponent is embarrassing. Outside of sophomore tailback Lennon Creer, the Vols have next to nothing in terms of offensive talent. They can’t move the ball and even when they do, they cap drives off with turnovers when they get into opponents’ territory.

Whoever takes over for Phillip Fulmer has his work cut out for him.

Next coach has tough task at Tennessee

Phillip FulmerPhillip Fulmer said Monday that he would step down as head coach at Tennessee following the 2008 season. And as Geoff Calkins at the Tennessean writes, the next head coach will have his hands full turning around that program.

Should Tennessee really have a better program than Florida or Alabama? Should it have a better program than Georgia or LSU?

Three of those schools (Florida, Georgia and LSU) have a much richer recruiting base than Tennessee. The other school (Alabama) may have the best college coach in the universe.

Potential coaching candidates understand all this. So stop the talk about bringing in Butch Davis or Bob Stoops, OK? The Tennessee job isn’t as appealing as some fans seem to think. It may not even be as appealing as some of the other jobs that are open this year.

Clemson might not have the stadium that Tennessee has, but it’s in a much softer league. So is Washington, for that matter. Would you rather succeed Fulmer or Tyrone Willingham?
So this is going to be tricky. This is going to be difficult for Hamilton to get right.

Fulmer is gone. The next guy could be better.

Unless, of course, he’s not.

Besides the tough SEC slate that he will face on a yearly the basis, the next head coach will have issues putting talent on the field, too. Anyone who has watched the Vols play this year with any regularity has seen a team that has struggled mightily with offensive cohesion and an overall lack of talent on the roster. Even when UT has moved the ball this year, they’ve often capped the drive off by turning the ball over or failing to reach the end zone. That program is a mess right now and the firing of Fulmer is only the beginning.

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