Vols have ‘Strong’ feelings for coach?
Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 7:00 pm
By Evan Woodbery
NEW YORK — After a wild, rumor-filled day in the Big Apple, Tennessee’s search for a new head coach could be on the verge of a conclusion.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong appears to have emerged as Tennessee’s top choice, and he could decide his future as early as today.
ESPN’s Chris Low first reported Tuesday that Strong was the Vols’ top choice, but said that no deal had been finalized. Reports from Louisville late Tuesday suggested that some believe Strong could still be persuaded to stay with the Cardinals.
The situation presents a reversal from 24 hours ago, when Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart appeared to be putting Strong on hold while pursuing other candidates.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who interviewed with Tennessee on Sunday and was considered along with Strong to be one of the Hart’s top two targets, was at the center of most of Tuesday’s wildest rumors.
An Arkansas newspaper and a website covering the school said Gundy would soon be announced as the Razorbacks’ new coach. Almost immediately, the story was retracted. Shortly after, Arkansas announced the hiring of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, a stunning decision that few, if any, predicted.
While some inferred from Tuesday’s drama that Gundy had picked Arkansas over Tennessee but ultimately chose to remain at Oklahoma State, there was no statement from Gundy or OSU to reaffirm his commitment to the school.
Even if Gundy isn’t entirely out the picture, Tennessee’s immediate focus appears to have turned to Strong, a 52-year-old Arkansas native who had stints as a defensive coordinator at Florida and South Carolina before getting his first head coaching job at Louisville.
Strong, who would become Tennessee’s first black head football coach and the fifth in SEC history, is 24-14 in three seasons at Louisville. The Cards (10-2) will represent the Big East in the Sugar Bowl but are moving to the ACC in 2014.
Hart, who was in New York for former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer’s Hall of Fame induction on Tuesday, may have met with other candidates at the Waldorf-Astoria this week, but that could not be confirmed. Reports that North Carolina coach Larry Fedora interviewed Tuesday were disputed by a UNC source, according to The News-Observer.
Strong has been under pressure at Louisville since reports of his discussions with Tennessee and Auburn surfaced. Asked if he would return to Louisville in 2013, Strong said Monday, “I will say that at the right time.”
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has said in the past that money would be no object in keeping Strong with the Cardinals, but said Tuesday that the final choice would be in Strong’s hands.
“The ultimate decision will come down to does he want to be in Louisville or not?” Jurich told TV station WHAS. “Economically, fiscally, we can match anything anybody wants to do.”
Strong earned $2.3 million plus bonuses in 2012. Strong’s buyout, which is on a sliding scale, is reportedly in the neighborhood of $2 million.
Even if the deal was reached Tuesday, Tennessee might have wanted to delay the announcement to avoid upstaging Fulmer’s Hall of Fame induction.
Strong also could request time to inform his players or assistants before the news is made public.
Tennessee is seeking a replacement for Derek Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after three losing seasons.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Tennesseebeat.
Publlished in The Messenger 12.5.12