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October 7, 2008

Kiffin could be hot coaching commodity

MORE: Dienhart's Weekly Awards | Rivals.com Week 6 National Awards | Olin's Heisman Ballot

The coaching landscape soon will begin shifting - as coaches leave, get fired, resign or quit - and one name to remember when it comes to filling jobs is recently fired Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin is known to have interest in the coaching jobs at Syracuse and Washington, should they come open.

Kiffin has a well-known tie to Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross, who worked in the USC athletic department during Kiffin's tenure with the Trojans (2001-06). Kiffin's knowledge of the Pac-10 and extensive ties in the West make him a natural fit at Washington.

Kiffin is 33 but already has a wealth of experience. He helped build a dynasty at USC, joining Pete Carroll's first staff in 2001 as tight ends coach. Kiffin took over receivers in 2002 and added offensive coordinator duties in 2005. During his tenure at USC, Kiffin was considered one of Carroll's top recruiters if not the top recruiter. After the 2006 season, Kiffin interviewed for the University of Minnesota job before taking the Oakland post. Kiffin also reportedly was a candidate for the Arkansas job after last season.

At 31, Kiffin was the youngest coach in the history of the modern NFL when he was hired by Oakland in 2007. It's also impossible to ignore his coaching bloodlines: His dad, Monte, is a longtime NFL assistant who currently runs Tampa Bay's defense.

Kiffin was in a no-win situation the day he took the Raiders' job working for mercurial owner Al Davis. Kiffin left Oakland with a 5-15 record, but it still was an experience that enhanced his coaching resume and made him even more prepared for his next venture, which probably will be a college job.

COACHING BUZZ

Will Phil Fulmer survive at Tennessee? Fulmer, in his 17th season in Knoxville, is under fire with his Vols off to a 2-3 start. With games remaining at Georgia, vs. Alabama, at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt and vs. Kentucky, it's possible the Vols could have their second losing record in the past four seasons.

While the Vols won the SEC East last season, Fulmer hasn't guided Tennessee to an SEC title since 1998, the year the Vols also won the national championship. Since then, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Auburn have won SEC crowns.

But remember that Fulmer signed a contract extension in the offseason, and he has a hefty buyout. Published reports indicate Fulmer would be owed $6 million, payable in 48 months. The first payment would be due the month after he is let go.

If Tennessee does replace Fulmer, among the early names being bandied about are Kiffin, Connecticut's Randy Edsall, Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, Utah's Kyle Whittingham, TCU's Gary Patterson, Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Missouri's Gary Pinkel, USF's Jim Leavitt, BYU's Bronco Mendenhall, Boise State's Chris Petersen and East Carolina's Skip Holtz.

TOM'S TOP 13
1. Alabama
3. LSU
6. Texas
7. BYU
8. USC
10. Georgia
11. Utah
12. Florida
ONE MAN'S WORKING HEISMAN BALLOT
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
2. Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri
3. Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
The dream candidate might be Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, who was a G.A. in Knoxville in 1986-87 and whose wife is a former Tennessee cheerleader. But he would be a very long shot.

Is there a hotter assistant than Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen? He's the architect of a Tigers attack that arguably is the best in the nation. And he soon figures to be a head coach.

Christensen interviewed for the Washington State job last season, but the post lacked appeal. He was on an early list for the SMU job but never got seriously involved. All of that will change this offseason for Christensen, who hatched the idea to add the no-huddle element to Mizzou's spread offense a few years ago.

Christensen is a native of Everett, Wash., who played for the Huskies and later served as offensive line coach (1989-90). He would seem like a natural fit for the job at Washington should an opening occur and that seems like a foregone conclusion with the Huskies off to a 0-5 start.

No doubt, Washington honchos will come after Christensen's boss, Gary Pinkel, who was an assistant at Washington under Don James (1976, 1979-1990) before becoming Toledo's coach (1991-2000). Washington's first call has to be to Pinkel make him say "no." But I'd be surprised if Pinkel would give up what he has built in Columbia, Mo., over the past eight years. Instead, I think Pinkel will heartily recommend Christensen, who's ready.

GRADING THE "BIG SIX"

Did your school and conference pass last week?

ACC
A: Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia
B: Boston College, Florida State
D: Miami, N.C. State
F: Duke, Maryland

BIG EAST
A: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
C: West Virginia
D: Rutgers, Connecticut
F: South Florida

BIG 12
A: Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
B: Texas
C: Iowa State, Kansas
D: Baylor, Colorado
F: Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M

BIG TEN
A: Illinois
B: Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
C: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin
D: Indiana, Purdue

PAC-10
A: Arizona, USC
B: California, Oregon State
C: Stanford, UCLA
D: Arizona State, Oregon, Washington State
F: Washington

SEC
A: Vanderbilt
B: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina
D: Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee
F: Auburn

FINAL THOUGHT

Which team has been the biggest disappointment?

Clemson? West Virginia?

I say it's Wisconsin.

The Badgers looked like a Big Ten sleeper, boasting a strong defense and an offense that teemed with potential. But the Badgers are 0-2 in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin famously blew a 19-0 lead at Michigan two weeks ago. The same Wolverines team then got smoked 45-20 in the Big House by Illinois. Then, this past Saturday, the Badgers failed to defend their home turf against an Ohio State team starting a true freshman quarterback. Before beginning Big Ten play, Wisconsin barely escaped at Fresno State, which last week got bushwhacked at home by a horrible Hawaii team.

Next up for the Badgers is a visit from Penn State, which is the hottest team in the Big Ten. Bottom line: Wisconsin looks poised to start the conference schedule 0-3. And a home game with Illinois (Oct. 25) and a trip to Michigan State (Nov. 1) also look perilous.

Still, Bret Bielema's team could take off and get back into the Big Ten title mix with an upset of the Nittany Lions.

MORE: Dienhart's Weekly Awards | Rivals.com Week 6 National Awards | Olin's Heisman Ballot

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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