Muschamp at the top of Vols' list

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's top target to replace Lane Kiffin as head coach is Texas defensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, according to several people close to the situation.

Muschamp was also high on the Vols' list when they hired Kiffin, but Texas took him to nearly $1 million per year and also gave him the coach-in-waiting title for when Mack Brown retires.

Tennessee is prepared to pay big money to get Muschamp, and the two sides could talk as early as Wednesday. Ultimately, prying Muschamp away from Texas will be difficult. Plus, if he's intent on staying at Texas, Tennessee's interest will only help his leverage with the Longhorns and perhaps give him a clearer definition of when he might take over as head coach.

Some other names to watch are Ole Miss' Houston Nutt, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Air Force's Troy Calhoun, TCU's Gary Patterson, Connecticut's Randy Edsall, Duke's David Cutcliffe and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

The long shot would be Jon Gruden, whom the Vols had interest in when they hired Kiffin. But with Gruden out of coaching now, he might not be as much of a long shot anymore. Plus, he does have Tennessee ties. He was a graduate assistant under John Majors in the 1980s, and his wife is a former Tennessee cheerleader.

If Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton is looking to make a splash, the two biggest splashes he could make with Vols fans right now would probably be Muschamp or Gruden.

And make no mistake: Given what just happened with Kiffin, Hamilton definitely needs to make a splash.