SEC: Butch Davis
Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee could all have their new head coaches named by the end of this week. Already, Kentucky has named former Florida defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to replace Joker Phillips.
It should get interesting over the next few days because guys like Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Louisville's Charlie Strong are prime targets at a couple of different schools.
At Tennessee, it appears that Gundy and Strong are at the top of the list, as Jimbo Fisher has decided to stay put at Florida State. Tennessee officials are also expected to talk with North Carolina's Larry Fedora on Tuesday in New York.
At Auburn, the name that's created the biggest buzz in that state is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who according to Al.com, interviewed with the Tigers on Monday. The other names prominent in that search are Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn and Strong. Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Auburn for three years before taking the Arkansas State head job this season.
With Alabama heading to play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in January, the timing would be anything but ideal for the Crimson Tide if Smart gets the job, especially if he hires away some of the Alabama assistants to go with him. Either way, Smart is easily the hottest commodity out there among assistant coaches in college football and has been selective the past few years. The Auburn gig may be too attractive to turn down if he gets an offer.
There have been reports that former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is on Auburn's list, but multiple sources have told ESPN.com that Petrino is not a serious candidate. Auburn's president, Jay Gogue, simply isn't going to sign off on Petrino, and at this point, Petrino is going to have a hard time breaking back into the SEC.
At Arkansas, two of the top targets are former North Carolina coach Butch Davis and Gundy. Davis, an Arkansas alumnus, has a lot of support among several in the Hog Nation. He was fired at North Carolina following an NCAA investigation of the program that landed the Tar Heels on probation, although he was not mentioned in the 111-page report by the NCAA.
The overriding feeling in the Ozarks was that this would be Bobby Petrino’s best football team at Arkansas.
But now that he’s not going to be around to coach that team, where do the Hogs go from here?
As we saw with both North Carolina and Ohio State a year ago, it’s never easy to navigate a season when your coach has been sent packing in the months leading up to that season.
Granted, Butch Davis was fired at North Carolina about a month before the 2011 season began, and Jim Tressel was forced out heading into June.
So Arkansas’ coaches and players at least have a little more time to process the situation, but this is the kind of thing that can fester for even the most resilient of football teams.
One day, Petrino is there, firmly in control and feverishly building on last season’s No. 5 finish in the polls.
And then one ill-fated motorcycle ride later, he’s gone.
There’s no way to prepare for such a sudden transition, no textbook, no therapist who can all of a sudden make everything right again.
Put yourself in the place of the Arkansas players.
Those words ring hollow now, and the only thing more hollow is the feeling that everybody associated with the football program must be experiencing.
There are so many unanswered questions going forward.
Petrino had obviously done a masterful job in making the Hogs relevant again nationally, so losing his leadership is one thing.
But what about his offensive genius?
Few coaches in football have a better feel for the game when it comes to breaking down defenses and calling plays.
Petrino called all of the Hogs’ plays on offense, so losing that dynamic is a huge blow.
What this team has going for it is talent, not to mention experience in key spots.
Talent has a way of covering up even the nastiest of wounds.
Having one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC helps, too, and Tyler Wilson now has a full season as a starter under his belt.
Wilson’s leadership in 2012 will be crucial. The same goes for running back Knile Davis, who knows a little something about dealing with hardship.
Davis, who missed all of last season after injuring his ankle, was already an inspiration to his teammates with the way he has continued to fight back from injuries.
The Hogs are going to need him more than ever, both on and off the field, in 2012.
Petrino had overhauled his defensive staff in the offseason, and it just so happens that two of the guys he brought in -- defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and linebackers/interim head coach Taver Johnson -- were at Ohio State last season.
If anybody has a clue what Arkansas is about to face, it’s Haynes and Johnson. They lived it last season with the Buckeyes following Tressel’s ouster.
Ultimately, the coaches will only be able to do so much.
If the Hogs are going to keep 2012 from being a lost season and fulfill the promise everybody had for this team prior to Petrino’s dismissal, it’s going to be on the players.
They have the talent to weather the storm. We’ll find out in the fall if they have the fortitude.
The Vols announced on Thursday that Sam Pittman had been hired to coach the offensive line after Harry Hiestand bolted for the Notre Dame offensive line job.
Pittman was at North Carolina for the past five seasons and part of Butch Davis' original staff there in 2007. Just prior to the 2011 season, Pittman was promoted to associate head coach, replacing John Blake, who resigned one game into the 2010 season after being linked to NCAA allegations that triggered an investigation of the Tar Heels' football program. Pittman was named as one of the country's top 25 recruiters by ESPN.com in 2011. He was at Northern Illinois before joining Davis at North Carolina.
The Vols have seen five different assistant coaches to leave since the end of their 5-7 season. One of those, receivers coach Charlie Baggett, was not retained. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left for the same jobs at Washington, while special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Eric Russell left to join Mike Leach's staff at Washington State.
Dooley is targeting Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri and Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green to replace Wilcox. Dooley has talked with both Sunseri and Green in the last two days. Dooley has offered the special teams coordinator's job, meanwhile, to San Diego Chargers assistant Rich Bisaccia, who just finished his first season as the Chargers' special teams coordinator. Bisaccia was previously the associate head coach and special teams coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dooley had already hired Jay Graham to coach the Vols' running backs. Graham, a former star running back at Tennessee, had been at South Carolina the past three seasons.
Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)
North Carolina take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: North Carolina, which began the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press preseason poll, had much higher hopes this season, but considering how injuries and suspensions decimated the roster, an appearance in a bowl game is not an accomplishment those within the program take lightly. Carolina is in a bowl game for the third straight season, the school’s longest streak since going to seven straight bowl games from 1992-98. UNC and Tennessee had previously agreed to play in 2011 and 2012, but Tennessee canceled the series.
UNC returned all but two starters on defense and was expected to contend for the ACC title in coach Butch Davis’ fourth season, but the Tar Heels lost 14 players for at least one game and seven for the entire season because of a two-pronged NCAA investigation. UNC started the season with back-to-back losses, but a four-game winning streak revived their bowl hopes.
Backups have played integral roles for Carolina, but veteran quarterback T.J. Yates has been one of the most improved players in the country this year and at the heart of the team’s success. He is No. 2 in the conference in passing efficiency and No. 2 in passing average per game.
Tennessee take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Tennessee was 0-for-October earlier this season and staring at a 2-6 record. Granted, the competition got a lot easier, but the Vols rebounded nicely under first-year coach Derek Dooley to earn a trip to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Tennessee’s surge here at the end of the season started with Dooley turning the keys of the offense over to true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and the cool Californian responded by throwing 12 touchdown passes in his four starts.
The Vols also have one of the better group of receivers in the SEC. Seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones have both had big seasons, but true freshmen Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers have also come on during this winning streak.
All told, Tennessee has 21 first-year players in its two-deep, and at times, had three freshmen playing on the offensive line. The Vols have also been a lot better on defense these past four games and kept teams out of the end zone.
To get to seven wins and finish a game above .500 would be a real accomplishment for this team and would match last season’s 7-6 record -- when it looked like the closest the Vols would get to a bowl game back in October was watching one on television.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Amid reports in Knoxville that Butch Davis was Tennessee's top choice to replace Phillip Fulmer, the second-year North Carolina coach did his best Wednesday on the ACC teleconference to squash that talk once and for all.
"I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the University of Tennessee job," Davis said. "It's a great job, but I have no interest in it. Like I've said for the last couple of weeks, I love being here. My family loves being at Carolina. We're building it with the administration. We're doing everything we can every single day to build a championship football program here."
Davis, who makes $2.6 million and is positioned to go closer to $3 million, if not above, after this season, also said that Tennessee, as far as he knows, has not contacted his agent.
Among those coaches on the Vols' list are (alphabetically): Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's time for our daily stroll through the conference to see what else they're writing and saying about the SEC:
- Top sports agent Jimmy Sexton says some coaches want no part of the SEC. He adds that he thinks Butch Davis, sure to be a hot commodity at season's end, will be at North Carolina for a long time.
- Ian Rapoport of The Birmingham News has a touching story on Alabama running back Roy Upchurch dedicating his career-best performance against Tennessee to a 14-year-old fan who was tragically killed along with his grandmother in a mobile home fire.
- Georgia has been stricken with injuries this season, but the Bulldogs have moved on without skipping a beat.
- Looking for more speed on offense, Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom decides to pull the redshirt off of freshman Arceto Clark, who gives the Bulldogs the big-play threat they've been missing.
- The injuries are starting to mount for Arkansas. Freshman free safety Elton Ford is out for the season with a neck injury.
3:19 4th Qtr Fresno State 6 Rice 30 Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State