The news has certainly rippled around the SEC over the past 24 hours that Phil Fulmer is out as the head man in Knoxville. After a season that makes the season of which Joel does not speak look merely very unpleasant, no one should be surprised. Also unsurprising is that it was Steve Spurrier who gave the final twist of the dagger (which I'm assuming was about 2 feet long, so as to get through the layer of protective dooughnut blubber and down to the vital organs. What can I say? One last fat joke for the road . . .)
What is a little surprising to me is the belief (in some circles, the glimmering hope) that David Cutcliffe will be tapped as Fulmer's replacement. Oh, I don't fault Vol fans for hoping. We Georgia fans have as much reason to dread a Cutcliffe administration in Knoxville as anyone. But it's not going to happen, for the following reasons:
- There are actually worse places to coach football now than Durham. Cutcliffe has some serious positive momentum at Duke. Sure, they're not going to crash the BCS anytime soon. But if he chooses to Cutcliffe can continue making $1.5 million to beat Vanderbilt and hold serve against Virginia and Wake Forest. He'll never be under the scrutiny Coach K endures. And in the Meh-tropolis of college football that is the ACC, stranger things have happened than Duke finishing 8-4 and winding up in the ACC Championship Game (sponsored by Quizno's or Blue Cross Blue Shield or maybe the new season of Ask This Old House). Duke, in short could be a great little place to build a decent legacy. People will respect him for going 7-5, graduating his players and generally being a good guy and a smart coach. I like to refer to this as "The Jim Grobe Proxy".
- One worse locale is Knoxville. Vol fans are among the most passionate in college football. That's a double-edged sword. Cutcliffe would take over a program without a substantial in-state recruiting base, no Mannings to tutor, and very high expectations. He'd also be able to look forward to newly resurgent Alabama, Florida and Georgia on the schedule every year. That's the kind of pressure cooker that could kill a man. Speaking of which . . .
- David Cutcliffe already almost died for football once. Why do it again? After getting an incredibly raw deal at Ole Miss, Cutcliffe was hired as the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame (which seems a little like having Joe Kines teach a French cooking class, but whatever . . .) and proceeded to have a massive heart attack. Afterwards he took some time out of football and openly reassessed his priorities. Taking the Tennessee job would be a sure sign that he forgot all he learned during that time.
- He's not going to teleport into Marlon Brown's living room. Fairly or not, Cutcliffe has a reputation as an indifferent recruiter. The new boss on Rocky Top is going to have to jump headlong into pitched recruiting battles against the likes of Nick Saban, Butch Davis, Urban Meyer and yes, Mark Richt. I just don't know that he wants that.
- Money, money, money. Cutcliffe makes darn good money at Duke. Tennessee is about to pay Phil Fulmer a $6 million buyout that will keep him in Krispy Kremes for decades, because they just had to go and give him one of those votes of confidence that everybody knows isn't one. While it wouldn't be a deciding factor I'm sure, in a tanking economy I imagine the administration would prefer a younger, cheaper skipper.
- 35 is the new 50. Tennessee has been loathe to venture outside its program when hiring football coaches. And they've had as much stability in that regard as almost any program in the nation. Leaving aside Penn State and Florida State, who each recruited their coaches right after those guys got back from fighting in WWI. But given the long, slow goodbye of the Fulmer regime (and the wildly successful tenures of Mike Shula at Alabama and Bill Stewart at West Virginia), I have to imagine a certain contingent within Vol Nation will want to go in a new direction. I personally hope they elevate Dave Clawson, but that's just me. However, I imagine that instead Will Muschamp and possibly USC's Steve Sarkisian will get a nice dinner and a sales pitch in Knoxville
- He doesn't want to lose his fishing buddy. OK, I don't know if Cutcliffe and Fulmer are fishing buddies, but they are friends. I imagine Cutcliffe would be somewhat uncomfortable making sure his onetime boss and longtime friend didn't swipe the ergonomic deskchair on the way out the door. Of course, it didn't stop the guy who replaced Johnny Majors. . .
Of course, there are some darned good reasons why David Cutcliffe might be the next top Vol. He's revered by the hill people as an offensive super genius, he's Manning approved, he makes a mean omelet (Tennessee people love omelets, I think it's the easily digestible protein and the mounds of cheese and bacon . . .). But the best reason he might be? David Cutcliffe has a strong connection to some of the best days of Tennessee football history. No other candidate will have that. They'll talk to him. He'll listen. But I just don't think it's in the cards.
Am I wrong? If so, I know you folks will tell me, right?