It won’t be Bruce Pearl.
That’s the one thing that would shock me.
Doesn’t matter whether you think it’s smart or dumb. Doesn’t matter whether it would work or not. Tennessee isn’t going to pursue its former coach. And, at this point, I’m uncertain Pearl would actually jump from Auburn to Knoxville even if presented with the opportunity.
Regardless, it’s not happening.
So let’s skip that debate, place Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Archie Miller and VCU’s Shaka Smart in an untouchable category, and focus on some actual candidates.
(Realistic candidates for Tennessee listed in alphabetical order)
CHRIS HOLTMANN (Butler )
Why he makes sense: Holtmann made something out of almost nothing after being thrust into the position of Butler’s head coach just before the season. He led a team picked seventh in the Big East to a second-place tie in the final league standings, then beat Texas in the NCAA Tournament. So life is good. But Holtmann’s contract can easily be trumped, the Butler job is a middle-of-the-pack job in the Big East (at best), and the shadow of Brad Stevens forever looms. So Holtmann, who is from nearby Kentucky, might be hirable.
ANDY KENNEDY (Ole Miss )
Why he makes sense: Kennedy is averaging more than 21 wins in his nine seasons at Ole Miss despite the fact that Ole Miss only had three 21-win seasons in the 96 years before he took over. He’s 41-25 in his past 66 SEC games, which is better than everybody not named Billy Donovan or John Calipari, and Kennedy has made the NCAA Tournament in two of the past three seasons even though he might have the SEC’s worst resources. Still, for some reason, some Ole Miss fans never seem satisfied, and I’ve long believed staying 10 years at the same school is less than ideal for most. So Tennessee could make a run at a proven SEC head coach who already has strong ties in Memphis, and Kennedy would have to listen because the Tennessee job trumps the Ole Miss job in basically every way.
RICHARD PITINO (Minnesota )
Why he makes sense: Pitino is considered among the sport’s bright young coaches, and he was smart to take Minnesota when he was offered it at the age of 30. That said, it’s a tough job with subpar facilities, and it’s hard to climb in a league laced with high-level veterans like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein, Thad Matta and Mark Turgeon. Thus, perhaps Pitino could use a fresh start, and Tennessee could theoretically provide that for the former Louisville and Florida assistant who has spent much of his life living in the SEC’s footprint.
STEVE PROHM (Murray State )
Why he makes sense: Yes, Prohm just agreed to a contract extension with Murray State. But that’s not necessarily the type of thing that would keep him from bouncing for a nice opportunity. He turned down Mississippi State a few years back; so he won’t take Tennessee just to take Tennessee. But UT would be smart to seriously consider Prohm, if only because he’s 104-29 in four seasons at Murray State and an accomplished recruiter in the state of Tennessee — proof being how he’s currently coaching the best NBA prospect from the state of Tennessee (Cameron Payne).
BRAD UNDERWOOD (Stephen F. Austin)
Why he makes sense: Underwood has been magnificent in two years at SFA. He’s 61-8 overall and 35-1 in league games with victories over VCU and Memphis. The former SEC assistant has two NCAA Tournament appearances, one NCAA Tournament win and just two losses in two years to programs run at a similar level. In other words, Underwood has basically won every fair fight he’s ever been in as a head coach, and how many coaches can you actually write that sentence about? (Again, Underwood is 35-1 in league games.)
WILL WADE (Chattanooga)
Why he makes sense: Wade passed on the chance earlier this month to be Charlotte’s next coach for lots of reasons, among them because he trusts better opportunities will exist soon. And he’s likely right considering he has a roster in place that’ll be projected to win the Southern Conference next season. So if Wade is very much the type of candidate Tennessee might consider next year, why not consider the 32-year-old former VCU assistant now? And did I mention he’s from Nashville?