The once-proud University of Tennessee football program is a shambles following a 2012 campaign that saw them win just one game against an SEC opponent and go 5-7 versus the college football odds. Head coach Derek Dooley was fired as a result, setting the stage for what will be one of the more important coaching hires in decades for the Vols.
For the first time in more than 100 hundred years, Tennessee has had three-straight losing seasons, culminating this year with a record of 5-7 straight-up and just 1-7 in the SEC. Reports indicate former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden is being targeted as the next head coach for the Vols. Though Gruden has no college head-coaching experience, he would bring instant credibility to the program and would likely be a terror on the recruiting trail.
Besides finding a new coach, the other major issue facing the Vols this off-season will be whether their three most productive offensive players return for their senior seasons. Quarterback Tyler Bray, who threw for more than 3,600 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading the nation’s 20th-ranked passing attack; along with wide receivers Justin Hunter (73 catches, 1,083 yards, 9 TD’s) and Cordarrelle Patterson (46 catches, 778 yards, 5 touchdowns) are all projected as early-round picks in next year’s NFL draft.
All three have indicated whoever lands the coaching job and their offensive system will have an effect on their decision whether to stay or move to the NFL.
If Tennessee can get those players back, they will join four starting offensive lineman that will also return. That group would set the Vols up to be one of the better offenses in the SEC next season.
Defensively, Tennessee will have much more work to do to improve a unit that ranked 108th in the country in points allowed (35.7 points a game) this season. The Vols have a long-history of producing impact players on the defensive side of the ball and that tradition will need to be renewed by the new head coach to get the program turned around.