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VOL. 36 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 14, 2012

Mixed standards for coaching hires

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It’s a crazy world, this practice of hiring college football coaches.

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Just ask Tennessee and Western Kentucky.

The Volunteers hiring of Butch Jones away from the University of Cincinnati last week was seemingly a collective sigh from Big Orange fans.

Maybe they were relieved the position had finally been filled and Jones could immediately go about the business of assembling a staff and hitting the recruiting trail.

But maybe it was a resigned sigh from ardent Tennessee followers who felt the Volunteers had been forced to “settle” once again for a second-tier hire, forced to go with a guy that might or might not be ready for the big time.

I’m sure there were Vol fans out there who felt the same way when Derek Dooley was hired three years ago. They had to feel a bit of trepidation at hiring a guy whose resume includes Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Heck, there were even UT fans clamoring for Phillip Fulmer to return to the sidelines, probably many of the same ones who couldn’t wait to run him off in 2008.

Tennessee was never going to lure Jon Gruden away from the broadcast booth. Only an attractive NFL job could get “Chuckie” back on the sidelines to coach, not the exasperating process of trying to convince 18-year-old kids to sign on the dotted line to play for Tennessee or any other college program.

But I get the sense that once Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong said no to the Volunteers to stay at Oklahoma State and Louisville, respectively, a cold reality set in for UT athletic director Dave Hart – that he’d better wrap this thing up with the best guy he could find who would actually take the job.

There is the perception (misguided or not) that simply the lure of UT and the SEC should have been enough to convince a guy at coaching at Oklahoma State and, certainly, Louisville to come running to Knoxville as soon as the job was offered.

Hart basically admitted to “settling” when he introduced Jones as the Volunteers new head coach on Friday.

New Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino, left, welcomed by athletic director Todd Stewart during the press conference announcing his hiring.

-- Ap Photo/The Daily News, Joe Imel

“Rarely in life is anything exactly what it seems to be. Life doesn’t always throw us fastballs. It throws us curves, then it throws some screwballs. I’m not referencing anybody here. You have to be able to adjust,” Hart said.

So after swings and misses with Gundy and Strong (and perhaps Gruden), Hart could not afford to whiff by flirting with another coach who might say no.

And so he did the best he could, bringing in Jones, whose track record at least suggests that he is more ready to win than Dooley was.

Still, it has to gnaw at Tennessee fans that a program that won a national championship 14 years ago and was a force in the Southeastern Conference until the past five years is now unable to attract more than an up-and-comer. In other words, no coaching icon was going to apply for the job in Knoxville.

Who knows? Once upon a time, Urban Meyer was a relatively unknown commodity. Same thing for Les Miles and Mark Richt. Maybe Jones, given some time and a couple of recruiting classes, can get things straightened out and restore order with the Vols.

At least Hart didn’t have to pawn his soul and hire Bobby Petrino.

Which brings us to Western Kentucky.

I’m not sure which is a bigger indictment, that WKU feels the need to win so badly that it would replace a quality coach like Willie Taggart with a coaching gypsy like Petrino, or that Petrino is such a pariah in the coaching ranks that the only job he could find is at the low end of Division I in the Sun Belt.

There is no doubt Petrino can coach, and in terms of strictly wins and losses, his 75-26 record at Louisville and Arkansas made him the best available coach on the market.

But with so much baggage, most recently his sordid relationship with a 25-year-old volleyball player at Arkansas, is the price of winning really worth it?

Remember, Petrino doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for doing business above board. He was brought to Auburn a few years ago to talk about that job while Tommy Tuberville still was the head coach.

He bolted on the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the night after 13 games, leaving behind a cowardly note to his players explaining his decision to go to Arkansas. And, of course, there was the whole affair and cover-up of his tryst while with the Razorbacks.

Petrino signed a four-year deal, but the smart money says he won’t be in Bowling Green four years from now.

Still, at least on the field, Petrino knows how to win, and will give the program a lot more attention in the process. Apparently that was good enough to satisfy Western Kentucky in the short term.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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