It looks like the Tennessee Vols have their new head football coach.
According to a report from Pete Thamel, the Vols are hiring UCF head coach Josh Heupel to replace Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.
(VolQuest’s Austin Price first reported that Heupel was “emerging” as a candidate at UT.)
Heupel’s name wasn’t mentioned much during the early stages of the search, but his hiring shouldn’t come as a surprise. New Tennessee athletic director Danny White hired Heupel in late 2017 to replace Scott Frost at UCF.
The news of Heupel’s hiring immediately elicited some groans from UT fans on social media.
That’s likely because Heupel went 6-4 in 2020 after going 22-4 the previous two seasons.
I get it. Tennessee fans wanted a grand slam hire. They wanted someone like Matt Campbell who has had incredible success at Iowa State. Or former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin (Heupel, by the way, is 2-0 against Kiffin).
But a hire like that was never really on the table — not even with the amount of money that Tennessee was throwing around (reportedly in the $7 million a year range).
The looming NCAA sanctions at UT, combined with a roster that has seen a lot of names hit the transfer portal, has made the job not very attractive right now.
You can thank four consecutive failed head coaching hires for that.
Heupel will bring plenty of experience to Tennessee. He’s coached under Bob Stoops in the Big 12, he has SEC experience at Missouri (where he did big things with quarterback Drew Lock), and he has three years of head coaching experience (unlike his predecessor).
There’s obviously a huge risk with Heupel. Will his offense translate to the SEC? Can he handle the pressure of coaching at Tennessee? Can he recruit against the likes of Nick Saban, Lane Kiffin, and Kirby Smart?
Those are all questions that unfortunately can’t be answered right now.
What we do know is that Heupel puts an explosive offense on the field. He knows how to develop quarterbacks and he’s won a lot of games in just three years as a head coach.
It’s far too early to know how this hire will work out. But all things considered, this is probably the best hire Tennessee could’ve made.
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