The Tennessee Vols ended their coaching search on Wednesday by hiring Josh Heupel away from UCF.
Heupel’s teams are known for putting up a lot of points. But they don’t usually do very well on the defensive side of the ball.
For that reason, Heupel must nail his defensive coordinator hire. Otherwise, he probably isn’t going to find much success at Tennessee.
Fortunately for Heupel, there are several potential candidates out there that would be quality hires.
Note: I don’t think current UT defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley will be retained. He’ll likely have some NFL opportunities. I also don’t think Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom will be an option. Heupel worked under Odom, but he appears to be very committed to Arkansas, as he recently declined interest from LSU.
Kevin Steele — Former Auburn defensive coordinator/former UT interim head coach
This is the first conversation Heupel should have. Steele has a lot of SEC experience. He’s been a defensive coordinator at Auburn, LSU, Alabama, and Clemson. Steele would pretty much be the head coach of the defense, without any interference from Heupel. It’s not a bad scenario. But does Steele want to stay at Tennessee after getting passed up for the head coaching job? It could be tough this time of year to find another defensive coordinator gig, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Steele opts to stay at UT (assuming Heupel extends an offer).
Brad White — Kentucky defensive coordinator
Kentucky’s defense has been pretty good under Mark Stoops (just ask Jeremy Pruitt). So why not try to poach their defenisve coordinator? White, who played college football at Wake Forest, has NFL coaching experience and he just finished his second season as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator. He’s well regarded and would certainly be a good fit at UT.
Zach Arnett — Mississippi State defensive coordinator
Arnett is a bit of a rising star in the SEC. The former New Mexico linebacker just finished his first season at Mississippi State where he helped improve a defense that was No. 74 in the nation in 2019 (they were No. 58 in the nation in 2020). Arnett recently interviewed with LSU for the Tigers’ vacant defensive coordinator position. It shouldn’t be too hard to swipe Arnett from Mike Leach’s staff.
Will Muschamp — Former South Carolina head coach
Look, Heupel needs someone who can totally run the defense. Muschamp could be the guy. He hasn’t fared well as a head coach, but he knows what he’s doing on defense. And he has plenty of experience in the SEC. I’m not sure if Muschamp would want to come work for Heupel (they don’t have any mutual connections), but the Vols could afford to pay Muschamp a hefty sum. Might as well take a big swing, right?
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