Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, whose unit helped lead the No. 3 Bulldogs to their first SEC championship since 2005 and their first appearance in the College Football Playoff, is scheduled to interview with Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer for a second time in New York on Tuesday, sources told ESPN. Also scheduled to interview a second time Tuesday is Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a former Vols player and assistant coach.
In addition, Fulmer and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin spoke extensively by phone Tuesday morning, and sources close to Martin told ESPN it was a “very positive conversation moving in the right direction.”
Tucker, 45, is in his second season on Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s staff and previously worked with him at Alabama in 2015, when they helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship. Tucker was also formerly a defensive coordinator in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, and he served as the Jaguars’ interim coach for the final five games of the 2011 season.
This season, the Bulldogs rank in the top five among FBS teams in passing defense (158.3 yards per game), scoring defense (13.2 points) and total defense (270.9 yards).
Steele, 59, has directed Auburn’s defense the past two seasons, after previously working as an assistant at LSU, Alabama, Clemson and Florida State. He was the head coach at Baylor from 1999 to 2002, where he compiled a 9-36 record. He played linebacker at Tennessee in 1978-79.
Martin, 39, quarterbacked Tennessee to the 1998 national championship and played under Fulmer for the Vols.
Fulmer, who replaced John Currie as Tennessee’s athletic director last week, is expected to interview other candidates in New York as well, after making initial contact with candidates in Dallas earlier this week.
SMU head coach Chad Morris and two other defensive coordinators whose teams are in the playoffs — Alabama’s Jeremy Pruitt and Clemson’s Brent Venables — also are considered potential replacements for Butch Jones, who was fired after compiling a 34-27 record in six seasons with the Volunteers.
At a news conference for the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday, former Vols star Peyton Manning addressed the coaching search: “Obviously it’s been a difficult time, but I know what Tennessee is capable of being: It’s what it was when I was in school there. I’ve been a devout supporter and always will be and look forward to hopefully getting it back to where it was back when I was in school. Great place.”
Tucker, a semifinalist for the Broyles Award as college football’s top assistant coach, is a native of Cleveland and played defensive back at Wisconsin from 1990 to 1994.
Georgia will play No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year’s Day.
Auburn, which lost to Georgia in the SEC championship game, will face UCF in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl that same day in a New Year’s Six game.
ESPN’s Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.