Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tennessee finally seems to have grasped how far it has fallen

A few (more) words about Tennessee: I’m not the biggest Phillip Fulmer fan – I still think he did Johnny Majors dirty, and I’m reasonably sure he just became athletic director by shoving John Currie aside – but if the latest names to circulate are indeed the focus of the Volunteers’ never-ending search for a coach, somebody deserves some credit. 

Local angle: Mel Tucker, Georgia’s defensive coordinator, is among the latest list. So is Brent Venables, the outstanding Clemson DC. So is Kevin Steele, who returned the concept of defense to Auburn. Also Chad Morris, the former Clemson offensive coordinator now at SMU. 

I’ve long considered Morris overrated. Yes, he did pluck Deshaun Watson out of Gainesville High, but the Tigers started playing for national championships after Morris left for Dallas. Venables is great. Tucker and Steele have done very good work. Any of those three would be fine for the no-longer-big Orange, which brings us to our point. 

Tennessee started out trying to get Jon Gruden and maybe Chip Kelly. Then it stepped down a tier and cast its eye on Dan Mullen, David Cutcliffe and Mike Gundy. Then it stepped down two tiers to court Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren and Kevin Sumlin. (The latter might have been a good hire two years ago but has, you know, just been fired by another SEC school.) Then it stepped back up to pursue Mike Leach, an affront for which Currie was apparently axed. 

Now the Vols are essentially down to career assistants. (Even Morris is best known for his time alongside Dabo Swinney.) No knock on any of these men, but this tells us how far Tennessee has fallen. Since winning the SEC East in 2007, the Little Orange is 62-63. They’re 26-54 in SEC play. They’re no longer a power. They’re yesterday’s news, except when it comes to botched coaching searches. 

They’re no longer dealing from strength. (You’ll recall they hired native son Majors coming off his national championship at Pittsburgh.) Their best hope is to find the right career assistant and hope like heck he grows into the job. My pecking order would be Venables, Tucker and Steele, with not much separating them. Should Fulmer hire any of the three, I’d say, “Nice job.” Which is something I haven’t said about anything involving Tennessee for a decade.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.