What title games? Off-field drama takes center stage

Better fit for Tennessee job: Leach or Sumlin? (0:53)

David Pollack says that the next step for the Volunteers is hiring a coach with experience, including the likes of Mike Leach and Kevin Sumlin. (0:53)

As college football fans prepared for what many are calling the greatest championship Saturday in history, in which four conference title games will determine the four teams that will compete in the College Football Playoff, raging dumpster fires across the sport continued to steal the spotlight.

The NCAA hammered Ole Miss' football program on Friday but let former coach Hugh Freeze walk away with only a slap on the wrist.

Even North Carolina officials probably thought he got off easy.

A few hours later, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher resigned the day before his team's regular-season finale against Louisiana-Monroe. He'll be named Texas A&M's new coach sometime this weekend or Monday, after he signs the richest coaching deal in the sport's history, earning $75 million over 10 years.

And that wasn't even the biggest surprise on Friday.

Tennessee athletics director John Currie, who was overseeing a coaching search that turned into a comedy of errors that UT fans probably won't ever forget, was mercifully relieved of his duties on Friday morning. Phillip Fulmer, who was unceremoniously fired as UT's football coach nearly 10 years ago, agreed to become the school's new athletics director.

Talk about a Friday news dump. College football's scandal, scorn, money and incompetence have given it an entirely new meaning.

Only in college football could the biggest games of the season be completely overshadowed by off-field drama and scandal. Major League Baseball discourages its teams from breaking news during World Series games, and the NFL also frowns upon coaching changes during the playoffs and around the Super Bowl. The NBA typically saves its drama for the offseason and once a year around the trade deadline.

But because of college football's accelerated recruiting calendar, and, well, Tennessee's ineptness in finding a new coach, the fact that the season's five biggest games are being played on Saturday is nearly an afterthought.

Unless you're a die-hard Auburn fan, who really thought about star tailback Kerryon Johnson's injured shoulder on Friday? How many people in Florida and Texas wondered if Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett's surgically repaired knee would be ready for Saturday night's Big Ten championship game? Who wondered if Miami's passing game will be good enough to beat No. 1 Clemson without star receiver Ahmmon Richards, who injured his knee in practice this week?

As great as Saturday's lineup is going to be -- and it has the potential of being downright epic -- nothing compares to the fun we've enjoyed over the past six days, when we were following the coaching drama and fan uprisings on Twitter and other social media.

Even better: What transpired on Friday might only be the beginning. Fisher, who guided the Seminoles to the 2013 national championship, leaves behind one of the best jobs in the country. FSU athletics director Stan Wilcox might target Oregon's Willie Taggart, South Florida's Charlie Strong or Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente as a potential replacement.

If Taggart leaves the Ducks for FSU, might UCF coach Scott Frost have second thoughts about returning to Nebraska? Frost will try to guide the Knights to a perfect 12-0 record in Saturday's AAC championship game in Orlando, Florida. The former Cornhuskers quarterback is expected to replace the fired Mike Riley at Nebraska, but might Frost pause to consider Oregon, where he worked under former Ducks coach Chip Kelly from 2009 to 2015?

At this rate, FSU and Nebraska might have new coaches before Tennessee does. The Volunteers have been searching for one since they fired Butch Jones on Nov. 12; they might be "Champions of Life," but they stink when it comes to finding a new coach.

Currie, who had been UT's athletics director for only eight months, flew to Los Angeles on Thursday to meet with Washington State's Mike Leach, who by my count is at least the eighth coach to be contacted about the Volunteers' opening (and that's not counting ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and Kelly, who were probably at the top of UT's list).

According to sources, Currie was prepared to offer Leach the job, but UT chancellor Beverly Davenport told Currie to return to Knoxville and not broker a deal with Leach or anyone else. Currie was let go after meeting with Davenport and others on Friday morning.

Currie, who had left Kansas State, in part, to avoid having to hire legendary Wildcats coach Bill Snyder's replacement, was the face -- or fall guy, depending on which side you believe -- in what has been one of the most disastrous coaching searches in history.

The day after Thanksgiving, the Volunteers believed they were on the verge of hiring Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, but then Kelly chose UCLA over Florida and Frost also told the Gators no. So Florida hired Mullen, who helped the Gators win a pair of national titles as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator.

On Sunday morning, the Volunteers signed a memorandum of understanding with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, but then the Vols reneged a few hours later because of severe backlash from alumni and fans, some of whom objected to Schiano's ties to the Jerry Sandusky era at Penn State.

Currie and UT's administration tried to save face and moved quickly, contacting Duke's David Cutcliffe, Purdue's Jeff Brohm and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy over the next few days, but each of them chose to remain at their current schools. Then NC State's Dave Doeren also turned down the Volunteers for an extension with the Wolfpack, which caused Currie to fly to L.A. to meet with Leach.

Maybe Fulmer will make things easy and simply name himself the coach. It's anybody's guess where the Volunteers' seemingly endless search will go from here.

While Tennessee's embarrassment will sting for a while, Ole Miss faces an even more uncertain future. Earlier this week, the Rebels removed the interim tag from coach Matt Luke, a former Ole Miss player, and now we know why.

The NCAA committee on infractions finally delivered its long-awaited ruling on Friday, and the Rebels were hammered with a second postseason ban -- for the 2018 season. The school said it plans to appeal

Remarkably, Freeze, who resigned in July because of off-field behavior, received only a two-game suspension from the NCAA, which will be in effect only if he's a head coach this coming season. If a school wants to hire Freeze as its offensive coordinator or tight ends coach, however, he'll be free to coach and recruit without sanctions.

Ole Miss officials had hoped that since Freeze was no longer coaching there, the NCAA would be a little more lenient when deciding its penalties. Instead, the NCAA came down hard on the Rebels and barely sanctioned Freeze.

Now that the NCAA has cleared Freeze, maybe he'll take the Tennessee job.

Somebody has to take it.