KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Disappointed Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton doesn’t have anytime to waste replacing Lane Kiffin, whose abrupt resignation has left the Volunteers scrambling.
The AD said he’d like to have someone in place before Sunday, when coaches are allowed to begin live recruiting again.
Interim head coach Kippy Brown, tasked with holding together the program’s recruiting class, would prefer to have someone in place even sooner than that.
“This is an absolutely critical time for our program as it relates to wrapping up the recruiting and signing date time, so we will work very diligently toward trying to bring closure to this process,” Hamilton said Wednesday.
The Volunteers are trying to hold together a recruiting class ranked as one of the best in the country.
Brown is proceeding with plans made by Kiffin to host prospects on campus this weekend and would like to see the new head coach in place by Friday or Saturday to speak with those prospects.
Hamilton said he would be a day late on the decision if it meant hiring the right coach. Hamilton took a month before hiring Kiffin, though when asked to describe Kiffin’s tenure as coach, he had one word: “Brief.”
The athletic director began his search Tuesday afternoon after officially learning Kiffin would be leaving and continued his search after meeting with the program’s eight mid-term enrollees and media Wednesday morning.
Though he’s never commented publicly on the other candidates he interviewed to replace Phillip Fulmer in November 2008, Hamilton said few if any were still available for the job now.
One potential candidate Hamilton is possibly focusing on is Texas defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, a former assistant at LSU and Auburn, and a Georgia graduate.
Tennessee associate athletic director of football operations David Blackburn said he had no knowledge of Muschamp traveling to Tennessee for an interview.
Other coaches Hamilton may consider include Duke coach and former Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and East Carolina coach Skip Holtz.
Agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents Kiffin, Muschamp and many other college football coaches, declined comment to The Associated Press.
Brown said he’s been told he’s a candidate for the job too. One person Hamilton is not pursuing is Fulmer, the coach he fired in the middle of the 2008 season.
Asked if he felt betrayed, Hamilton said he gave Kiffin a chance to be a head coach but that he was “more disappointed for the kids and fans.”
The athletic director said Kiffin told him Saturday that if the Southern California job came open he would be interested.
Hamilton met with the eight recruits who enrolled early and told them to “go to class.” He said that though he didn’t have an attendance sheet with him, since the recruits were on campus at 12:01 a.m. that means they are enrolled at Tennessee.
According to Tennessee, the eight who enrolled were Channing Fugate, offensive lineman Juan James, defensive end Corey Miller, defensive end Jacques Smith, quarterback Tyler Bray, wide receiver Ted Meline, wide receiver Matthew Milton and quarterback Matt Simms.
Two players expected to enroll and didn’t were wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and defensive lineman Brandon Willis. Rivals.com, which ranked Tennessee’s recruiting class sixth before Kiffin’s departure, reported Willis would enroll at North Carolina.
The athletic director was quizzed about how much Kiffin strayed from Tennessee traditions and about the departing coaches contacting Vol recruits, trying to lure them to Southern California.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Hamilton said about the calls to recruits.
Kiffin hired Brown in December of 2008, and he said he had heard through the coaching grapevine that Kiffin might not be around long. But this is Brown’s third stint coaching at Tennessee.
“There’s been a lot of gloom and doom around here, and I don’t buy into that. … This is still Tennessee. It was Tennessee before I got here. It’s Tennessee now, and it will be Tennessee long after I’m gone,” Brown said.
“And that’s special.”