sports (2006-28)

A look at UT’s coaching contingency plans

The Peterson Principle

by Tony Basilio

It’s called the Peterson Principle: Unfortunately, it’s what guides major college sports these days. Its namesake, Buzz Peterson, certainly didn’t invent it, although he’s taken the principle to new heights. The Peterson Principle states that no matter where you are, you’d better start plotting your next move. The Peterson Principle follows the logic that there will be no loyalty from coach to school or from school to coach. The Peterson Principle had applications when Buzz was in East Tennessee and still does on UT’s campus today.

When Buzz Peterson arrived at Tulsa back in 2000, he was already looking to leave. Less than 10 months later, Buzz was in Knoxville accepting UT’s head coaching position. Never mind the fact that he had recruited a full class to Tulsa that he supposedly committed to, or that he had wowed boosters with his supposed love of the Golden Hurricane program. Peterson blew through Tulsa like a Category Three on his way to bigger and better things. Only Rocky Top didn’t work out and he was back in the minors.

UT Athletics Director Mike Hamilton has said in the past that part of his job is to maintain a list of potential coach candidates in all sports. You never know when a vacancy may be created. For all Hamilton knows, Phillip Fulmer may come up to him tomorrow and say, “No mas.” Or then again, maybe some big money boosters may decide it’s time for a change. Either way, Hamilton has to be ready with his list. It’s his way of adhering to the Peterson Principle. With this in mind, what follows is a look at what names may be on Hamilton’s list of potential coaches at UT.

John Chavis: The defensive coordinator at UT for going on 12 seasons, Chavis is a tremendous motivator and a fine man as well as a great football coach. His lack of experience as a head coach at the collegiate level will hurt his chances of getting the job. His odds of being interviewed are even.

David Cutcliffe: The current offensive coordinator at UT could augment his chances for consideration with a resurgence in the Vol offense this season. Cutcliffe took Ole Miss to heights unseen since the days of Archie Who. That he accomplished it with Archie Who’s son can’t be overlooked. The book on him at Ole Miss is that he’s a quality person who didn’t recruit well enough to be successful. To get it done in Knoxville, you have to be able to compete with the big boys on the recruiting trail. His lack of recruiting success at Ole Miss will be an impediment that would be too great to overcome. Still, Cutcliffe’s chances of being interviewed are 2-1.

John Gruden: The current head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs has a Super Bowl championship on his resume. Because he started his college-coaching career at UT under Johnny Majors back in the mid-’80s, Gruden’s name comes up whenever dream candidates are mentioned. That Gruden married a former UT cheerleader only adds fuel to the fire. Then there are rumors that he is building a huge home in Sevierville. It all sounds great until you think about it. Why would Gruden, a tremendously successful NFL head coach, want to matriculate backward into college ball? Besides, Gruden, if you believe his biography published a few years back, isn’t fond of the way Johnny Majors was ousted in Rocky Top. Odds of interviewing are 100-1.

Bobby Petrino: The head coach of the Louisville Cardinals came within a bird’s feather of holding the top post a few years back at Auburn. Remember the coup attempt of Tommy Tuberville that went down right before Auburn’s unbeaten season in ’04? Petrino was the offensive coordinator at Auburn, so he knows and has recruited the league. A 42 points-per-game average is confirmation of his tremendous offensive mind.

Rich Rodriguez: Coming off an 11-1 season as head coach at West Virginia, including a win over Georgia back in January in the Sugar Bowl, makes him an instant candidate at UT. That he’s done an excellent job in recruiting and player development in mountainous surroundings only sweetens the pot. Yeah, Double R is on the list! Odds of Interviewing are 1-2.

Tommy Tuberville: The Auburn head coach is still smarting from the aforementioned coup in ’03. Factor in that the rising millionaire is a former high school coach in the Mid-State, and Tuberville could be a viable candidate. Tennessee could make him college football’s first $5 million man. The way UT spends money, anything is possible. Odds of interviewing are 10-1.

Considering what may be coming down the road serves two purposes: First, it makes you appreciate what you have in Phillip Fulmer. Second, it makes you stand up and take notice of some of the rising programs around the country. One of them may just have Tennessee’s next head coach at the helm. That’s the Peterson Principle.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit for more information.