- Nov 5, 2008
Sometime very shortly after December 1st, your next Tennessee coaching staff will be announced as the following:
Offensive Coordinator / HC in waiting
Defensive Coordinator / Associate Head Coach
Here's the "how" and "why" it happened, as best I can tell you.
1. Hamilton wants to have a coach in place by Dec. 1st. As both the college and NFL seasons are still underway at that point, that would seem to indicate that both out-of-work head coaches and coordinators are most likely to be named. This hire had better be - by mandate of both fans and boosters - an absolute homerun. If not, he's likely on his way out the door - be it sooner or later.
2. Don't let teh amount of money it cost for the buyouts of Fulmer and his assistants fool you - the UT AD is flush with cash, as are the boosters who forced Hamilton to scuttle Fulmer two weeks ago (did you think that the boosters would be able to essentially fire the guy, and not have a say in when it would occur?!). They'll pay whatever it takes to get their guy....if it is their guy. Do you think that Alabama regrets Saban's contract? Neither does Hamilton.
3. No doubt - for a time, Davis was the number one candidate, which is why it kept being mentioned by the local media. Many "sources" within the UTAD confirmed that he was the top target - that's who they also thought would be most likely to come to UT. Had everything remained static, this is likely what would have occurred - Davis comes to Tennessee.
4. However, this was all before the search firm, doing nothing more than due diligence (i.e. going through the paces) contacted Cowher, who showed a marked openness to the idea. Once that occurred, it all changed - the world turned upside down - and Davis was no longer the top candidate.
5. Hamilton rushes to Raleigh to meet with Cowher - for no other reason than to talk to him, and as a sign of how badly he was wanted at Tennessee. The interest was confirmed, and obviously, mutual. Of all we know about the dealings and movements of Mike Hamilton over the last few weeks, the only confirmed rumor we have is that he was, in fact, in Raleigh, NC last Tuesday...meeting with a UT Booster Club. Did I mention that Cowher just happens to reside in Raleigh, too?
6. Cowher is very familiar with the Tennessee program, its facilities, and Mike Hamilton himself, having been in Knoxville for previous coaching clinics. "Selling" him on the program might not have been as difficult as some would believe.
7. Was it coincidental that the day after Hamilton is in Raleigh, Davis issues his very public and adamant denial of any interest in Tennessee. Maybe he realized that there was a new best candidate, and it wasn't him.
8. If there is a "knock" on Cowher (and I use the term "knock" as lightly as possible), it's in his unknown ability to effectively recruit and teach / manage players at the collegiate level. It's not saying that he couldn't, or wouldn't be wildly successful at it - it's just an unknown. Hamilton had a front row seat for how badly these two things could go wrong - first, he watched almost the entirety of Tennessee's recruiting class evaporate last season when Cutcliffe and his staff left for Duke, and this season, as he watched Clawson fail to effectively teach his offense. Hamilton won't let either of these happen again, if at all possible, and that's where both Kiffin and Steele come in.
9. Lane Kiffin was in Knoxville. Some may have disbelieved it - but no one disproved it. The local media guys foo-foo it because an out-of-town media outlet broke it first. Kiffin was (and is?) here. Period.
10. Kiffin's latest interview at Clemson only proved what Hamilton (adn others) have privately told him -that he has an unrealistic estimation of the worth of his coaching stock from coaching in the NFL. As many of you have pointed out, for every Saban, there's a Weis. After now having heard it from two sources (Clemson and Tennessee), Kiffin finally believes it, and realizes that had crazy-as-bat-crap Al Davis not pulled him up from USC, he would be indistinguishable from Steve Sarkisian at the moment, as they shared o-coordinator and play-calling responsibilities at USC (where Sarkisian remains, today).
11. Lane knows fully well that the wrong job could irreparably harm his now golden-hued career for a long, long time. Tennessee looks like a step-back, until you consider all of the factors at play, and the options that really remain.
12. There is a recent trend in college football to have the head coach's successor on staff for a period of time before the HC steps down, and the designated successor steps up. It's that way at Florida State, Kentucky, etc. It adds a continuity to a program that many boosters and fans like. Likely, Hamilton has noticed this.
13. Having come to terms with all of this, Kiffin accepts the O-Coordinator position, and the chance to serve under one of the most widely respected coaches in the world in Bill Cowher. Kiffin will be the o-coordinator for a minimum of five (5) years, and when Cowher retires (for real, this time), he will be contractually guaranteed to be the new head coach.
14. Kevin Steele played football for Tennessee before starting his coaching career. Currently, he serves as the defensive coordinator for Alabama, after being a head coach at Baylor, and "Executive Head Coach" (or something or other with a title like that)while he was at Florida State for two seasons. Interestingly enough, Steele has also spent time in the NFL, coaching LB's for Dom Capers with the Carolina Panters. Well? Guess where the Panthers zone-blitz scheme first came to glory? That's right, from Pittsburgh when Capers was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers, under Bill Cowher.
15. Outside of Saban himself, it is Steele's defense and his voracious recruiting that is widely believed to have turned Bama around so quickly. In fact, Steele was named as the Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year in 2005 while serving at FSU - and he also orchestrated Bama's #1 ranked class last season, and likely will be ranked #1 again this season, too.
16. Why hasn't Steele's name surfaced as a possible replacement for Fulmer? Simple. He doesn't want to be a head coach. Steele was previously the head coach at Baylor, where he was - by any standards - a horrific failure. His name has never surfaced because it is widely known that he has no interest in being a head coach, again.
17. As a defensive coordinator, and not a head coach, it would be far less traumatic for the Crimson Tide if he were to leave before the end of the season, a la Cutcliffe in 98 to Ole Miss...right before the National Championship game. That means that he could be here, announced, before December 1st - just like both Cowher and Kiffin.
18. If you need to know more about Steele's credentials, consider this, too. Saban gets - and deserves - a large amount of credit for the recruiting and evaluation of players. However, it's often overlooked that he has shown the same prowess in hiring assistants as well. Need an example? It was Nick Saban who gave Wil Muschamp his first break by brining him on staff.
Here's why it works for everyone
He gets back into coaching without the same-old, same-old grind that his life became in the NFL. Being out of the coaching game for 2 years, he's rested and ready to be back, making NFL-type money, but doesn't have to live in one of the metropolitan holes that most NFL teams are located in. As he's only 51 years of age, spending 5 (or more) years at Tennessee likely won't be his last gig, if he doesn't want it to be. He will spend his life coaching - not managing a roster full of spoiled millionaires - and being revered amongst the Big Orange Nation, from the day he steps on campus, until the day he dies. It fits him, perfectly.
He lands at what would be the safest possible place - as a coordinator at a big-time school, while working for one of the most respected coaches in the country, in Bill Cowher, and alongside a bedrock program builder such as Kevin Steele. After 5 years (or a couple of more) of serving in that role, he is 38 years old or so, and he inherits what will almost certainly be a Tennessee program that is unrivaled by almost anyone.
Steele will ensure that Cowher's NFL-style defense is translated to college players - he's doing it now at Alabama, but now, he'll be in Knoxville, where he wants to be. He will also help Cowher to learn the ropes in Knoxville, college football, the SEC, recruiting, and Kiffin in learning about the SEC, especially in recruiting around here - which cannot be taught, per se, but rather, must be experienced.
He would have pulled off the coup of the century - period. He would be cemented as one of, if not THE best AD in the country, essentially, signing a lifetime contract in the process.
This is the lifeblood of the program - and we would have stacked the deck, almost unfairly so. We could go anywhere, and get anyone. Bar none. Kiffin ties us in to the West Coast, and has had three straight #1 classes at USC. Steele opens us up to Florida, from his days at State, in Texas where he was a coach at Baylor, and anywhere else in the South that he would want to go. And, oh yeah, after all of this - we could get Coach Cowher to come into the room and flash his Super Bowl ring while asking the recruit if he'd like to be on a team where he would be groomed for an NFL career. Do you think that this kid would sign?
Believe it or not. Like it or not. Agree with it or not.