KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee football coaching search has turned into a spectacle of unprecedented proportion.
Vols’ fans in the student section at the men’s basketball game against Mercer on Wednesday night began chanting “Fire Currie,” voicing their displeasure with athletic director John Currie regarding what to this point has been a botched search to replace Butch Jones.
— Mike Griffith (@MikeGriffith32) November 30, 2017
So that’s why the whole student section stood up to stare down the tunnel. https://t.co/BTYbgwcO23
— Mike Wilson (@ByMikeWilson) November 30, 2017
Tennessee fired Jones on Nov. 12, at which point the Vols’ first-year athletic director said he would take control of the hiring process, and that there would be no search firm.
Currie, who took over the Tennessee athletic director position on April 1 after nearly eight years in the same capacity at Kansas State, clearly overplayed his hand in hindsight.
The Vols’ fans and players have endured one embarrassing event after another the past 72 hours.
Tennessee’s coaching search drew national attention on Sunday when, after word leaked Currie was finalizing a deal with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to become head coach, fans revolted on social media and with on-campus demonstrations.
Some national media took the Vols’ fan base to task after a number of protesters raised the issue of Schiano’s affiliation with former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of child molestation.
Later Sunday night, former Tennessee offensive coordinator and current Duke coach David Cutcliffe said he was not interested in the position, and on Monday the focus shifted to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
The Vols approached Gundy in 2012 when Derek Dooley was fired, but were turned away.
This time, however, Tennessee’s football program was no longer on the Lane Kiffin-induced probation (which ran through 2014), and the Vols put a six-year, $7 million offer that would nearly double Gundy’s salary.
The Oklahoma State coach rejected the offer the same night it was made, and by noon on Tuesday, reports surfaced that Tennessee was negotiating with Purdue coach Jeff Brohm.
Brohm is among the most promising young coaches in the nation, and it appeared the Vols might find a worthy coach who would appease the fan base, after all.
But again, negotiations appear to have fallen through, as reports surfaced that Tennessee was moving on to interview North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren.
In the meantime, former Vols quarterback Erik Ainge engaged in a heated social media exchange with Kiffin, who has antagonized Tennessee fans throughout the coaching search.
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) November 30, 2017
Ainge published a harsh text message exchange on Twitter, further elevating the circus-like atmosphere in Knoxville.
I don’t want him. He doesn’t want to be back here either. Kiffin is not the answer. I promise. See our convo. No. Thanks. Lane. pic.twitter.com/HLjYDQ13s4
— Erik Ainge (@ErikAinge3) November 29, 2017
Doeren is 33-30 in his five seasons with the Wolfpack, and the students’ protest Wednesday night was in line with the displeasure most Vols fans were voicing on social media throughout the day after Doeren’s name surfaced.
“Tennessee having missed on so many candidates is No. 1,” an FBS head coach told SEC Country on Tuesday, when asked why Tennessee is having such a hard time filling its vacancy. “It’s too public.”
The Vols’ search is likely to be good for the handful of firms that conduct coaching searches, as such agencies are able to reach out to candidates in more discreet fashion and avoid the sort of embarrassment Tennessee is dealing with.
In addition to Currie, Tennessee booster and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is a key figure in the search, and Vols legend Peyton Manning has been serving as an adviser, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
Currie has told prospects a head coach will be in place by Dec. 20, the start of the new early signing period.
Tennessee took 19 days to hire Jones in 2012 after Dooley’s firing, and Wednesday will mark the 19th day of the public portion of the search since Jones became one of the nine SEC coaches to change jobs in the last two years.