Hey University of Tennessee, it’s time for a look in the mirror. After news broke that Bruce Pearl had been let go as the Volunteers headman, it was soon reported that Jay Wright of Villanova University and Jamie Dixon of the University of Pittsburgh were on the “Rocky Top” of the short list of candidates to replace him.
My question for Tennessee is – Just who do they think they are? Those are some pretty big names from some pretty big programs. I’m sure they got the fan based excited, but all of us onlookers not wearing orange were scratching our heads and asking … seriously?
Jay Wright led Villanova to the Final Four in 2009, has 224 wins at the program and has helped build the school’s basketball team into one of the top programs in one of the toughest conferences (Big East) in the nation. Jamie Dixon has done the exact same thing in the exact same state and exact same conference. Dixon has built Pitt into one of the top programs year in and year out in college basketball. He has led Pittsburgh to number one rankings in the regular season as well as one-seeds in the NCAA tournament, including two Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight finish.
Why would either of these men want to leave the programs, job stability, reputations and legacies they have built at their respective schools for the twangy hills of Tennessee? Let’s not even mention the dysfunctional cloud currently accumulated over the Vols basketball team following the long, slow, painful demise of Bruce Pearl. Wright and Dixon coach at universities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh respectively, both cities with a ton of high school basketball talent to recruit from. They coach in the Big East, the cream of the crop as far as college basketball conferences go. This isn’t college football where the Southeastern Conference is dominant; heck they’re only arguably the fourth or fifth best basketball conference.
Ideas of grandeur in Knoxville are nothing new. Remember the football team’s head coaching search a little over a year ago? The first name that was thrown out there was John Gruden. The team eventually settled on Derrick Dooley from Louisiana Tech University. Tennessee is not a basketball power either. Sure Bruce Pearl was able to get the team to a couple of Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight, but the years before his arrival in 2006, the Vols program had been pretty irrelevant since 2000. This isn’t Duke University, University of North Carolina, University of Kentucky, Kansas University, University of Connecticut, or even the Ohio State University, University of Texas or University of Arizona … it’s Tennessee basketball. Bruce Pearl made it a good job (even though he needed illegal BBQs at his home to do it) and Bruce Pearl is gone.
Unless Tennessee’s athletic office is full of hot-air and was merely just trying to impress their fans and boosters with the mentioning of names like Gruden, Wright and Dixon this year in their coaching searches, the whole athletic program is suffering from some pretty sad delusions. Tennessee has never won a basketball championship and come on, Peyton Manning left after the 1997 season.
This week it was reported that Xavier University’s head basketball coach, Chris Mack had turned down an eight-year, $2 million offer from Tennessee. Today rumors swirled on the Internet the Vols had turned their attention to the University of Central Florida’s head coach Donnie Jones. Later, however, Tennessee didn’t hire Mack or Jones, but instead went with an even lesser known option – Cuonzo Martin, the head coach of the Missouri State University Bears. In three years at Missouri State, Martin has lead the Bears to a 61-41 record, including an NIT second round finish this year (big whoop). Wow turned down by Mack, took a look at Jones and then hired Martin … those are good coaches, but not big names like Jay Wright or Jamie Dixon. Hope Smokey the hound is enjoying his humble pie.
Somebody had to do it, so I volunteered to give Tennessee a reality check.