It feels like we say this way too often, but the Tennessee Vols need a new head coach.
Tennessee fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt on Monday, due to the findings of an internal investigation into impermissible benefits.
While the timing may not seem ideal, I actually think Tennessee is in a good position to hire a quality head coach. That’s mostly because of the way COVID-19 has impacted the college football calendar.
Tennessee isn’t fighting anyone for a head coach. They can take their time, find the right person, and work a deal.
Here are the options that I think will be in play and should be in play.
Hugh Freeze — Liberty Head Coach
This is the dream candidate for a lot of folks, but I can’t see this hire happening. There’s no doubt that Freeze wants the job. But after firing Pruitt for cause, I don’t see any way Freeze is brought in to clean up the mess.
Gus Malzahn — Former Auburn Head Coach
I think Malzahn would be a terrific hire. But he’s not coming to Tennessee if Kevin Steele is still in Knoxville (Steele essentially tried to get Malzahn’s job at Auburn). And I don’t see the Vols hiring Steele last week just to let him go when a new coach is hired.
Billy Napier — Louisiana Head Coach
There’s been a lot of speculation that Napier would pass on the Tennessee job if offered. He’s passed up other opportunities, so I tend to agree with that thought process. Napier was born in Tennessee, so maybe he’d view the Vols’ job differently. Though the looming NCAA issues could scare him away.
Jamey Chadwell — Coastal Carolina Head Coach
I like Chadwell a lot. But I’m skeptical of how successful he could be at Tennessee. I think his offense would work, but it would take some time to install. Fans would need to be patient. His lack of power-5 experience also concerns me.
Matt Campbell — Iowa State Head Coach
Another great option that probably won’t even consider Tennessee if they call him. Campbell could find success at UT and he’d be a home run hire. But he’s passed on other jobs. He likely has his eye on a job like Michigan or maybe the NFL.
Lane Kiffin — Ole Miss Head Coach
This is my preferred hire. But I seriously doubt this happens, either. I’ve always liked Kiffin. I like his personality and his swagger. I love the energy he brings to coaching — and you’ve gotta have good energy to be a successful college football coach. I think Lane wants to be back at Tennessee. I think he regrets what happened in early 2010 and he’d love to get a second chance in Knoxville.
Doug Marrone — Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach
If Phillip Fulmer was making this hire, I’d bet on this being the move. Marrone is a former Vols assistant under Fulmer that has head coaching experience at Syracuse and at two different stops in the NFL. This probably wouldn’t be a bad hire. Marrone could likely get the program back on solid ground, but it wouldn’t be a very exciting hire for fans.
2 things I’ve heard about Tennessee (from the last two weeks):
– Gus Malzahn starting pushing his name around after Tom Herman got fired
– Doug Marrone has spent time in Knoxville since getting fired from the Jags
— Austin Stanley (@AustinStanley81) January 18, 2021
Bill O’Brien — Former Houston Texans and Penn State Head Coach
My money is here. Bill O’Brien has experience cleaning up a mess (as he did at Penn State) and he appears open to returning to college football (he’s been in talks with Nick Saban to take over as Alabama’s offensive coordinator). I like O’Brien better than Marrone, though he’s another option that wouldn’t generate a ton of excitement.
Mark Stoops — Kentucky Head Coach
This would be a great underrated hire. Mark Stoops has done a tremendous job at Kentucky. I don’t think he gets enough credit for making that program relevant. I kind of think of Stoops as the defensive version of Dan Mullen — I’d love to see what he could do at a program with more resources. But I doubt he’ll give Tennessee a chance. He’s in a good situation at Kentucky.
Kevin Steele — Tennessee’s interim head coach
This is the worst-case scenario. Steele was a disaster at Baylor in his one opportunity as a head coach. And he’s not exactly on the young side. I think Steele is a great choice as the interim. And I hope he’s on the next coaching staff, but hiring him wouldn’t create much excitement among the fan base or on the recruiting trail.
Tom Herman — Former Texas head coach
A solid option that could get Tennessee on solid ground. I know a lot of folks hate the idea of hiring a just-fired coach, but it worked out pretty well for the basketball program with Rick Barnes. Maybe Herman can’t win a national championship at Tennessee, but he could get the program to eight or nine wins a year. And right now that’s what the Vols need.
Bill Clark — UAB head coach
Clark has done an amazing job at UAB. I’m shocked he hasn’t landed a bigger job by now. Clark could be in play at Tennessee for two reasons — because he’s a good coach and because UAB athletic director Mark Ingram could be the guy who replaces Fulmer as the Vols’ new athletic director.
Featured image via Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports