Cries and Whispers 

A list of candidates for Woody’s replacement

A list of candidates for Woody’s replacement

You didn’t hear it here first: The next football coach at Notre Dame is going to be...Gerry DiNardo. Even before ND fired Bob Davie last weekend, the buzz had begun that the Irish eyes would soon smile on Gerry. After all, DiNardo was a favorite son and a former All-American. He understands the school’s unique environment. He’s available. His initials are the same as “Golden Dome.”

Never mind that the Irish would be dolts to hire DiNardo, who most recently served a coaching stint in the XFL—not even the pig-slop-eating prodigal son sank that low—and whose previous two collegiate employers sacked and sued him, respectively. Other than Louis Farrakhan, it’s hard to think of anyone who could leave so many white people so pissed off as DiNardo did at LSU and Vanderbilt.

And never mind that none of the Media Geniuses at Davie’s season-long wake have reported that any conversations between DiNardo and ND’s athletic department had actually taken place. It’s all a whiffenpoof, sustained by speculation and circumstance. Can you imagine what things would be like if Washington and Wall Street operated like this? (OK, bad examples.)

This game—now playing in South Bend, Nashville, Berkeley and other college football outposts—starts whenever a coaching vacancy looms. Some of it is the creation of the besotted wretches of newspaper sports departments who need something to write about in between junkets to hospitality rooms. It works something like this: Identify potential candidates; seek comment from them about their pursuit of the job for which they have not been contacted; if they don’t deny anything, or offer a non-denial denial—poof!—you have a story.

Sometimes the game is hatched by obsessive fans and alums whose mental world is a planet other than our own and who, to judge from their chatter on a host of Web sites, have nothing more important to do than fantasize about who the next coach might be. (When Tennessee fired Jerry Green last year, the wishful thinkers among the Orange Nation had just about everybody from Steve Alford to Magic Johnson and John Wooden crawling to Knoxville for interviews.)

Sometimes the game assumes a life of its own. The luckless Davie, for example, was about to be tabbed for a major head coaching job before he joined Lou Holtz’s staff at Notre Dame. Supporters of a rival candidate, however, used the prevailing (and inaccurate) buzz to convince Davie that he was the runner-up. Not wanting to be passed over and see his stock fall, Davie withdrew. The position, with Davie bluffed out, went to the rival who had been the second choice all along.

DiNardo, of course, isn’t the only source of speculation in South Bend. Among the other candidates (some of whom don’t even realize they’re candidates yet) ordained by resident fantasists are Raiders coach Jon Gruden, Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

Gruden, runs the thinking (and we use that term broadly), would happily demote himself from his lofty spot in the NFL because he grew up in South Bend and his father once was an assistant at ND. Coughlin, who is likely to be unemployed after December, might be a good fit because he was successful at another Catholic school, Boston College. As for the others, they’re all top coaches, and Irish fans just naturally assume that Notre Dame is still the top college coaching job in America.

At this point, the National Enquirer is about as likely to identify correctly the next Notre Dame coach as the Media Geniuses. Scientists are still working on a cure for this whacked disease. Until they find one, you might as well just get in the loopy spirit of things and play along.

Fortunately, there are current opportunities right here in Nashville, where a particularly virulent strain of speculative fever has struck the brains of fans and media. To share in the moment, we assembled a few of our committee of way, way insiders at the Scene Sports Desk at McCabe’s Pub and put together our own list of possible replacements for Woody Widenhofer. If you’d like to try the home version, try to figure out which of the names below have actually been dropped by the media or on fan Web sites.

♦ Gary Barnett. In protest for the way the BCS slighted his 10-2 team, the thinking holds that Barnett might be tempted to leave Colorado for Vandyland. He took Northwestern to the Rose Bowl, and his Buffaloes rolled up the most points ever surrendered by a Nebraska team. So maybe now he’s up for something really hard.

♦ Tony Dungy. The Tampa Bay coach may need a job next month, and the Commodores could make history by hiring the SEC’s first black head coach. And since he has drafted a slew of Vandy players in recent years, he has a certain kinship with the program already, right?

♦ Bill Parcells. The Big Tuna was an assistant here back in the day. He’s known as a rebuilder, and he likes new challenges. Vandy, meanwhile, is looking for a coach who’ll instill discipline and the school wants to make a statement with its new hire. You can’t speak much louder than Parcells.

♦ Mike Sherman. Though he hasn’t been there long, the Green Bay coach is hailed as an offensive wizard. The Packers’ colors are green and gold. Gold is also one of Vandy’s colors. See the connection?

♦ John Chavis. Everybody thinks UT’s defensive coordinator will soon be a head coach somewhere. Why not Vandy? Widenhofer has expressed an interest in joining Tennessee’s staff. Maybe they could work out a swap.

♦ Barry Switzer. Vandy athletic director Todd Turner said his choice for Woody’s replacement would shock the college football world. Here’s one guaranteed to fit that bill. Barry’s got the name and the track record, he’s available, and, provided he has enough walking-around money, we know he can recruit. What better way for Turner to symbolize that he’s changing the culture at Vandyland?

♦ Pat Summitt. An even bolder statement. People have always said Pat could coach men, so why not male footballers? She’s also meaner than Parcells—a big plus for those who demand tougher Vandy teams.

♦ Mike Gottfried. The ESPN analyst last coached at Pittsburgh, and so did John Majors. Majors, of course, is from Tennessee, and so is Vanderbilt.

♦ Watson Brown. Who understands the special culture (1-10 seasons) at Vanderbilt better than Watson? He’d probably like a promotion from Alabama-Birmingham, where he has been slowly crawling back from coaching oblivion (and where he landed after his last stint on West End).

♦ Mack and Watson Brown. Because he’s not Darrell Royal, Mack Brown will always be on the hot seat at Texas. So why wouldn’t he like to serve as co-head coach with his brother at Vanderbilt, where there’s pressure only to beat MTSU?

♦ Kurt Page. Maybe his resignation at Father Ryan High School wasn’t just coincidence. He could be poised to return to the scene of his old football glories, and he’d probably even enjoy a bigger salary.

♦ Brian Billick. We all know Billick is obsessed with Jeff Fisher and the Titans. Sure, he’d have to give up coaching the world champions. But Fisher would croak if Billick came to Vandy. And for Billick, that would be motivation enough.

The correct answers, by the way, are Barnett, Dungy, Sherman, Gottfried, Page and Brown. But none of the above will be Vanderbilt’s next football coach. I’m betting on Bob Davie.

How it looks from the La-Z-Boy

Titans 27, Vikings 24

Tennessee 24, LSU 17

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