New Tennessee athletic director Danny White didn’t have to look far to land his head football coach. White named UCF’s Josh Heupel as the Vols’ next head coach on Wednesday.
White previously hired Heupel when White was the UCF athletic director.
“We looked at a number of potential candidates,” White said in a statement. “Josh Heupel, who I had the privilege of working with for three years, is everything we were looking for: winning with integrity, a history of championships and the architect of explosive offenses. He is a players’ coach and the kind of person the student-athletes go the extra mile for. I saw that first-hand, and you can see it in his coaching record.”
White, announced Thursday as Tennessee’s new AD, has been working fast to find a replacement for Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired for cause Jan. 18 after an investigation that uncovered what university chancellor Donde Plowman called “serious violations of NCAA rules.” White cast a wide net through the Parker Executive Search firm and reached out to and/or interviewed several candidates, including Penn State’s James Franklin, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, SMU’s Sonny Dykes, Minnesota’s PJ Fleck and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, among others.
Sources told ESPN that, over the past few days, Elliott had serious discussions about the job but turned down Tennessee’s overtures and elected to stay at Clemson.
Heupel, 42, has been UCF’s head coach the past three seasons after taking over for Scott Frost, who guided UCF to an unbeaten 13-0 record in 2017. Heupel is 28-8 with the Knights, including a 12-1 record in his first season in 2018. They finished 6-4 this past season. Heupel would owe UCF a $3.4 million buyout, per the terms of his contract.
“I am thrilled to be coming to Tennessee,” Heupel said in the Tennessee statement. “I understand that Volunteer fans are hungry for a return to the top that they so richly deserve, and it is my goal and commitment to bring a championship back to Rocky Top.”
UCF has ranked in the top eight nationally in scoring offense and has averaged at least 42.2 points per game in all three of his seasons in Orlando.
A Heisman Trophy runner-up as a quarterback on Oklahoma’s national championship team in 2000, Heupel has SEC coaching experience. He was Missouri’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2016-17 before he landed the UCF head-coaching job. Heupel was also the co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma for four seasons, but he was fired after the 2014 season, when the Sooners went 8-5.
Heupel will be the Vols’ sixth different head coach going back to Phillip Fulmer, who was fired at the end of the 2008 season. Fulmer, who was named athletic director in December 2017, retired from that post on the same day Tennessee announced it was firing Pruitt for cause.