The guy everyone wants
Jon Gruden (Current job - Analysist for Monday Night Football): He's the sexy name getting thrown around in coaching candidate talks and he does sound good. He's a face all high school football players will know from seeing him every Monday night and his Jon Gruden Quarterback Camp. What high school quarterback wouldn't want to play for him? He's won a Super Bowl — albeit with a team that had been to the playoffs the previous three seasons and, just two years removed from the NFC Championship game, appears to have the ability to evaluate young talent and is a coach the entire fan base could get behind 100 percent. It still seems like a long shot that this will happen, but this is the guy that Big Orange Nation wants prowling the sidelines.
Gary Patterson (current job - Head coach at TCU): Patterson's name was tossed around three years ago following the departure of Lane Kiffin, and once again the TCU coach will be a name Tennessee looks at. Now that the Horned Frogs are in a BCS Conference he could very well be content with where he is.
Why leave a school that can go to the National Championship and not have to make it through the SEC schedule? Sounds like a sweet deal. Regardless, he is a proven winner and is someone who could do well on Rocky Top if he wants the SEC challenge.
Charlie Strong (Current job - Head coach at Louisville): There is a very good case that Strong is going to be moving up the coaching ladder very soon, if not this off-season. After a fifth place finish his first year and a bowl win, Strong and the Cardinals won the Big East in 2011 and are currently 9-1 this season. He's coached multiple positions on the defensive side of the ball and been in the SEC for the majority of his coaching career too.
Al Golden (Current job - Head coach at Miami): Golden has done a tremendous job in a tough situation at Miami — a program that has been under NCAA investigation since he arrived on campus. The Hurricanes have self-imposed a bowl ban for this season, possibly costing the Canes a shot at a BCS Bowl game. Miami has fallen off the map as the national power it once was, but Golden has done as much as he can to keep the program relevant, and he's done well. Imagine what he could do at a program that doesn't have as much heat on it as the one in South Beach.
Kirby Smart (Current job - Defensive coordinator at Alabama): Smart doesn't match Dave Hart's criteria of needing to be a head coach to be considered for the Tennessee job, but Smart is a tempting enough candidate to let the qualification slide. The Vols have had a bad experience with the two former Nick Saban protégées — Derek Dooley and Sal Sunseri — but Smart has been the mastermind behind the best defense in the country for the since 2007. Will Hart make an exception? Maybe not, but he has to consider, doesn't he?
David Cutcliffe (Current job - Head coach at Duke): Cutcliffe has already said that he will be returning to Duke next year, but since when do we believe a coach when he says that?
Once the season is over Cutcliffe will likely reconsider returning to Knoxville if the payday is large enough. He might not want to return to a school from his past, but there is no reason for Tennessee not to ask. He's elevated a Duke program that was once the doormat of the ACC to the middle of the pack. Sure feels like '98.
Bo Pelini (Current job - Head coach at Nebraska): Pelini might not be on the radar for some people, but I feel there is a better chance of prying Pelini away from his current program than some of the other head coaches on this list. He's 48-18 in his career as a head coach, never had worse than a 9-4 record during his tenure at Nebraska and is 3-2 in his bowl games. He's also used to coaching a team in a large conference and playing with the pressures of being ranked and high expectations.
Wild Card Candidate
Dave Doeren (Current job - Head coach at Northern Illinois): The Charlie Kelly of this gang is Doeren, and before you get up in arms, hear me out.
First, he's the wild card for a reason.
It's probably not going to happen.
Second, in his two years at NIU, Doeren is 21-4, won the MAC Championship in his first year and his team is the front runner to win the conference this season. Then, in his four losses the only one that has been by more than seven points was a blowout, 49-7, loss to No. 8 Wisconsin on the road.
He might not be hired at Tennessee, but don't be surprised to see Doeren on the move in the near future.
— Austin Bornheim is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at email@example.com.