Compare: CFB Teams | CFB Players
Derek Dooley was fired on Nov. 18, 2012, one day after a 23-point road loss to Vanderbilt — their largest margin of defeat in the series since 1954 — and six days before their regular-season finale vs. Kentucky. Reports began circulating almost immediately that the Vols were focusing on four candidates: Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden, eighth-year Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, third-year Louisville head coach Charlie Strong and first-year North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora.
Gruden's agent said Tennessee never contacted him or his client about the opening and he (agent) only spoke with Tennessee once, which was simply to clear the air and agree that there was not mutual interest.
Gundy was interviewed and offered the job. The then-45-year-old eighth-year Oklahoma State coach declined the offer to remain at his alma mater but later said he was very close to leaving, partly because of a strained relationship with Cowboys' athletics director Mike Holder.
“At some point, that’s where we thought we were going to go,” Gundy said in March 2013. “I felt if what I was saying to recruits wasn’t coming true, then I couldn’t do the job and I needed to go somewhere else."
Within hours of Gundy rejecting the offer, Tennessee offered the job to both Strong and Fedora (unclear which order or their preference), both of whom had interviewed while the Vols were aggressively pursuing Gundy. Both turned them down, forcing Tennessee to look farther down the list at Butch Jones, who was a few days removed from finishing the regular season at Cincinnati, his third with the Bearcats.
The then-44-year-old head coach had a 50-27 overall record at Central Michigan (2007-09) and Cincinnati (2010-12) and while he was widely regarded as a rising up-and-comer worthy of consideration for a Power Five job, he was clearly not Tennessee's first choice. And following a subpar five-year run in Knoxville that included zero 10-win seasons, zero SEC East titles and a miserable start to the 2017 season, Vols' fans can only wonder what would've happened had Gundy made the leap — or even Strong or Fedora.