With the departure of Lane Kiffin to USC, the job as Tennessee football coach is open for a second consecutive season.
For a second consecutive season, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp finds himself as a leading candidate for the position, based on internet speculation and reports from those who have talked with Tennessee officials.
Mushcamp, the coach-in-waiting at Texas, did not make a strong play for the Tennessee job last season. Will that change this time around?
The next couple of days will be telling. But the gut feeling is that Tennessee will be hard-pressed to lure him away at this time.
During media sessions over the past month, Muschamp expressed a willingness to wait on the Texas position to open when coach Mack Brown retires at a later date.
Brown, 58, said during the week leading into the BCS National Championship Game that he and Muschamp have not discussed a timetable for transition. Muschamp, 38, has said he is happy in his current spot and is in no rush to become a head coach at the college level.
When the Notre Dame vacancy surfaced in December, Muschamp’s name surfaced as a potential candidate. Muschamp’s answer at the time: “I’m going to be at Texas.”
Asked at that time if he would listen to offers from other schools, Muschamp said: “No.”
When the topic surfaced during interviews before the BCS title game, Muschamp said: “I’m not looking for another job. I’m happy with the job I’ve got.”
Granted, that is not a denial of interest. And Tennessee, a traditional power in the SEC, looms as a tempting place to work for someone with strong SEC ties. Muschamp, a former Georgia player and Georgia native, also has worked at Auburn and LSU.
From all indications, friends and colleagues believe Muschamp is satisfied learning the subtleties of being a head coach from Brown. But for how long?
Brown, who received a raise in December that bumped his salary to $5 million per season, dealt with the issue at length heading into last week’s BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.
After reflecting on the Longhorns’ combined mark of 25-2 over the past two seasons and the presence of quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a five-star signee, to run the offense for the foreseeable future, Brown said: “We’re in a pretty good spot right now to be talking about quitting.”
He also joked that Muschamp “runs down the hall to tell me he’s not interested” every time his name is dropped in speculation about vacancies at high-profile schools.
The hunch is that Brown will oversee the Gilbert era and, after three more years, Muschamp will take over the program. Or something close to that timetable, which would put Muschamp in charge of a major college program by his early 40s.
Is that too long for Muschamp to wait? His recent words and body language suggest he’s willing to bide his time. Before the BCS title game, Brown stressed there is no timetable for turning over the program to Muschamp and acknowledged that “things change” in these situations, despite the best-laid plans.
“I really and truly have not discussed it,” Brown said. “I told Will when this came up (last year), ‘I would like for you to stay and be our defensive coordinator. And when I step away, I’d like for you to be the head coach here.’ He said, ‘Fine,’” Brown said.
Asked if he felt he was being pushed out by all the discussions of a Muschamp timetable, Brown said: “No. I think it’s respect to Will because a lot of people want him around the country. It’s a natural question … Things change. We do not have a schedule in place (for line of succession). Will’s not looking for one and I’m not looking for one.”
The unanswered question, of course, is whether the Tennessee vacancy has created a change in that situation.
_ Jimmy Burch