Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Just three days after announcing that Phillip Fulmer wouldn't return next season, Tennessee officials are already on the trail for the Vols' next head coach.
A source with knowledge of the search told ESPN.com that among the candidates on Tennessee's preliminary list are Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin and Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. Contact has already been made or will soon be made with representatives of all four coaches.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton confirmed Thursday that the Vols' initial list had already been forwarded to Chuck Neinas, who's been hired to lead the search and will make the initial contact with coaches through their representatives.
Hamilton said he would neither confirm nor deny any specific candidates. Neinas, who runs Neinas Sports Service, has been involved in several high-profile searches over the years, including Urban Meyer to Florida, Mack Brown to Texas and Butch Davis to North Carolina.
Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is another name that has been connected with the Tennessee job. Hamilton said someone with head coaching experience makes it easier to document that person's success and record, but that it wasn't a requirement.
"There are a lot of guys who have come in as a coordinator and had great success -- Mark Richt, Bob Stoops and Phillip Fulmer, to name a few," Hamilton said. "It's about hiring the right guy for your place."
Some of the other names that could end up on the Vols' list include Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, TCU coach Gary Patterson, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. Others will emerge as well as the coaching dominoes start to fall around the country.
Whoever replaces Fulmer will be only the fifth head coach the Vols have had in football in the last 45 years.
Hamilton, who hit a home run with the hiring of basketball coach Bruce Pearl, said he's looking for somebody who can recruit nationally and be a salesman for both the university and the football program.
He acknowledged that it would be difficult to hire an NFL coach with the way coaches' contracts are structured in the NFL and the fact that their seasons run so long.
"It makes it harder to hire an NFL assistant or head coach back into the college level," Hamilton said. "I don't think it precludes it, but it's certainly another hurdle you have to get through."
Hamilton also made it clear that he's not interested in getting a raise for anybody or being used for leverage.
"We'll be competitive and pay what we have to to get the right guy for us," Hamilton said.