Collumn: Tennessee facing tough decision

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By Chris Cannon

Athletic director, Dave Hart said it best.

"I think this is a tough profession,” he said in Sunday’s press conference. “I think the passion of our fans is one of our greatest assets and sometimes that can be displayed in a variety of ways. We are blessed with a passionate fan base.”

However, that passionate fan base puts Tennessee in a precarious position at the moment.

With the firing of Derek Dooley, and as many see it, the University of Tennessee football program in shambles, it’s all going to be about whom they hire.

A lateral move on the same level as Dooley would be big let down to these passionate fans that are yelling for Jon Gruden as the next football coach.

Only, there’s one problem.

“We have a 1.9 million dollar reserve, which in the SEC is unheard of,” Hart said. “We compete against people who have reserves of about 50-100 million dollars. We are in a tough position financially.”

With the university posting a $3.98 million budget deficit in 2011-12, Dooley becomes just another name on a long list of buyouts for the Volunteers.

Phillip Fulmer, former athletic director Mike Hamilton, Bruce Pearl, and former baseball coach Todd Raleigh are all being paid for their buyouts.

With Fulmer coming in at the top of the ranks at a $6 million buyout, which the university is still paying, the list goes down from there.

Dooley will receive $5 million, Hamilton $1,355,000, Pearl $948,728, and Raleigh $763,657 for a total of $14,067,385 over the last five years.

That total also doesn’t include the buyouts for the assistant coaches as well.

“We are in a tenuous position, at a crossroads with our athletics program,” Hart said. “But, we have people who understand that and are committed to helping us overcome those obstacles. That won't be a detriment. Is it a concern? Yes, it is a concern.”

In other words, Jimmy Haslam is going to open his wallet.

However, with the money matter aside, the department still has to find the best coach possible for the money they can afford.

“First of all, as you well know this will be our fourth football coach in six years,” Hart added. “This is not what I wanted and I don't think this what we really needed, relative to stability versus more transition. We have had 12 presidents since the year 2000. We now have four football coaches in six years. We need stability. But we need to find stability through a process that we are engaged in now.”

Again, one of the biggest names tossed about is that of Gruden. “He wore an orange tie on Monday night football!”

“He called Dave Hart today saying he loved Tennessee!”

“Jon Gruden said Tennessee on Monday Night Football!”

Okay. While he does like the University of Tennessee, he’s not obsessed.

On “The Sports Animal” in April, Gruden said, “I think it’s a great job. I think it’s one of the marquee jobs in all of football in any level. It’s a tremendous tradition. It’s a goal post tradition. When you get in the orange and white, everybody knows where you’re from.”

Even he understands the importance of filling this job properly.

According to Hart, he’s looking for a coach that knows the difficulty of climbing the ladder in the SEC, someone with integrity, and someone who will comply with league rules.

“Some people have a false sense that we are late,” Hart said. “We are not. We are fine; I have done this many times. People need to take a deep breath. The door is not closing on our opportunities to find the right person."

While some think candidates will be few and far between because of the circumstances, the doors may be already knocked down with potential coaches.

With the trend appearing, it’s a no-brainer to take the Tennessee job.

Take the Volunteer job, coach for a couple years, and take the buyout.

I mean we can all use a few extra millions, right?