The Hart of the matter
“You can’t always get what you want ...
“But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”
The Rolling Stones were singing about love, not football coaches, but the sentiment holds true. As the Vol Nation deals with the appointed and the disappointed, and as talk radio picks over the new coach like a wildebeest carcass on the African plain, we are left to ask: How did Tennessee’s football coach vacancy go from being the premiere job in the country to one that nobody seemed to want, even a head coach who presumably had hungered to run an SEC program?
The disaster that was the University of Tennessee coaching search can only be blamed on one person: Athletics Director Dave Hart.
When Hart fired Derek Dooley — as he should have — he boasted that he had done many coaching searches in other administrative jobs and would handle this one himself. No search committee, no headhunter firm. Meanwhile three other SEC schools seemed to quickly fill their vacant head coaching positions, and other universities around the country did the same.
Virtually all the major jobs were filled — except the one that should have been the best of all the vacancies.
After it became clear Jon Gruden wanted no part of this job, Hart put all his eggs in the basket of Charlie Strong, the head coach at Louisville. Strong had been an assistant at Florida for a decade before taking over at Louisville, and has done well. His successful 2012 campaign made him a hot commodity. The other SEC schools passed on him. Hart zeroed in on Strong and thought he had the coach lined up to replace Dooley. Not so fast. Strong decided to stay put — with a beefier contract, of course — and called it his toughest decision in his coaching career.
So how did a done deal go so awry? Absent hard facts, one can only surmise and guess. The only reasonable conclusion: Dave Hart failed at his job — his most important one as an AD. The typical coaching carousel that evolves at the end of every season appeared to have slowed if not stopped. Yet Hart was spurned by three coaches before he landed Butch Jones of Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, the alumni and fan base are restless and irritated. They should be. Hart is responsible for the failure to get Strong to sign on the dotted line. It couldn’t have been the money, and surely it wasn’t the job itself. There has to have been a flaw in the Hart recruiting style, a signal or a demand he made or one Strong made that was rejected, which caused this appointment to blow up at the last minute.
So now we have Butch Jones, who enters the SEC perhaps not fully aware of what he has stepped into. He’s a good coach, and if fans are grumpy because he wasn’t their choice, then live with it. However, fans have a right to be upset at how the process was handled by their go-it-alone AD.
In the end the nation will coalesce behind Jones and hope for the best. They’ll need to be patient. Unfortunately, that’s a commodity in short supply these days.