Heath Shuler

Heath Shuler: from Congress back to Rocky Top… as Vols AD?


It’s been nearly 20 years since Heath Shuler finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting as a Tennessee Volunteers quarterback.

According to at least one report, the rumor is that Shuler may have an interest in returning to Knoxville to run the Vols’ athletic department.  And the interest, per the speculation, was initiated and is being reciprocated by the school.

By way of a political website called Hotline On Call, a radio host in Knoxville, WLVZ’s Tony Basilio, wrote on his blog Monday that Shuler was approached by unnamed UT officials about becoming the school’s athletic director shortly after Mike Hamilton stepped down earlier this month.  Shuler was sufficiently intrigued by the interest that, Basilio wrote, the former Vol is doing “some personal due diligence”.

Shuler’s reportedly reached out to former UT football coaches Phillip Fulmer — rumored initially to be a candidate for the AD job as well — and Johnny Majors, and received their “blessing” and support in pursuing the opening.

And, apparently, another part of that due diligence involves sorting out which direction his current career is headed.

Shuler is currently a Democratic congressman, representing North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He could, however, have a difficult time when the next election rolls around due to redistricting.

Shuler was elected to represent the GOP-leaning Asheville district in 2006, but his seat is one that is expected to be redrawn to be sharply more difficult for him in maps the GOP-led state legislature will release this Friday. Shuler is already facing a primary challenge from Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, and as Republicans have focused pressure on the dwindling Blue Dog Democrats in the House, two have already resigned or announced their intention to retire in 2012.

Certainly, a losing reelection bid would have Shuler at least looking at future employment opportunities.  For now, however, the Shuler camp will not hint that he’s interested in anything other than his current position.

“Congressman Shuler is focused on the very serious challenges facing our nation, including job creation and balancing our budget,” Shuler spokesperson Andrew Whalen told Hotline On Call when asked about the UT speculation. “He is currently and actively preparing for his next re-election campaign in 2012 and looks forward to continuing to fight for the working families of Western North Carolina in the years ahead.”

We’ve been told privately to not put too much stock in the speculation involving Shuler, so we’ll place this squarely in the “possible, but not very likely” rumor mill bin.  Then again, a similar scenario didn’t work out too bad for Nebraska and Tom Osborne, so we guess it shouldn’t be dismissed completely out of hand, however unlikely it may seem at the moment.

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.