What else would you expect from Rocky Top?
Tennessee announced the hiring of Josh Heupel on Wednesday, completing the logical pairing with former UCF sporting director Danny White. How did the fans of volunteers react? Check out the comments section:
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That coaching quest was nowhere near the disastrous quest of 2018 that started with Greg Schiano and ended with Jeremy Pruitt, but it took a tough turn in the end that put Heupel in an unenviable position before starting.
So, Central Florida is going to get $ 6 million buyout money from Tennessee for an AD and head coach, and they’re going to hire a better coach than Tennessee to replace Josh Heupel with that money. Typical vol football.
– Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) January 27, 2021
Tony Elliott was an up and coming candidate, but the Clemson offensive coordinator chose to stick with a national championship candidate. Former SEC coaches Gus Malzhan and Hugh Freeze were on the wish lists of the Vols fans. Big Ten coaches PJ Fleck and James Franklin stayed seated. Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, a native of Tennessee who led the Chanticleers to an 11-1 record that season, was considered the Group 5 lead candidate. Even Lane Kiffin, whose year-long stay in Tennessee produced a 7-6 record, laughed at the opportunity to return there.
The truth is that it is difficult to get a top-notch coach on a program willing to self-report recruitment violations in order to remove coaches he no longer wants.
Perhaps that’s why White, whose attitude hit fanfare less than a week ago, got stuck with a coach he can trust. Heupel has been at UCF 28-8 for the past three seasons since taking on Scott Frost, who was 19-7 years old from 2016 to 2017, before taking on the impossible rebuild in Nebraska. The Knights have the eighth best record in the FBS over this five-year stretch with 47-15, which is half a game better than Notre Dame and LSU. Yes, they won a national league title in 2017, but at least that was an interesting debate.
Tennessee has not been nearly a national championship since Kiffin’s hiring in 2008. The Vols are 73-75 through Kiffin, Butch Jones, Derek Dooley, and Pruitt – the eleventh-best record in the SEC during this stretch. Ole Miss (74-73) got better results. Texas Tech has the same record. If the Red Raiders had engaged Heupel in this round via the coaching carousel, the move would hardly have been registered in a news cycle.
Realize the rent for what it is. The program is currently unable to hire this notable coach, and to be honest, Tennessee fans wouldn’t be really happy with any of these names, except perhaps Malzahn, who was just fired at Auburn and replaced by Bryan Harsin of Boise State. That’s almost the same thing Tennessee did. Freeze, who reinvigorated his career at Liberty, is still coming with the baggage of the NCAA sanctions imposed on Ole Miss.
Tennessee failed to attract that attention now, although the NCAA may have been fined for alleged recruitment violations under Pruitt. Sporting director Phillip Fulmer, who coached Tennessee’s last national championship team in 1998, also retired. After Fulmer’s last season, the program went back indefinitely, and White and Heupel are tasked with making Tennessee competitive again in the SEC East. The volumes are 10-24 in the conference game for the past four years.
This is a mess, and White and Heupel have a massive cleanup job to do.
Heupel can train crime. He was the offensive coordinator in Missouri in 2017 when the Tigers scored 37.5 points per game, finishing 7-6. That included a 50-17 router against Tennessee, which was Jones’ last game. UCF averaged 43 points per game over the past three seasons. A 40 point offense is required to win the SEC.
But can Heupel defend coach? Can he recruit in the SEC? Can he succeed against these rivals? Tennessee has been a combined 4:22 against Florida and Georgia since 2008 and hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006. In all honesty, he can’t make it much worse.
Will Heupel succeed? That depends on the sliding definition of success. If he can lead Tennessee to a 10-win season – something that hasn’t been done since 2007 – that would be a start. How much time will Heupel be given to atone for the mess of four predecessors? Four years would be the minimum.
Tennessee needs to be patient – and no, its pain is not exclusive. Other ’90s national championship programs that were in vogue in the past – Florida State, Miami, Nebraska, and Michigan to be precise – are fighting the same battle. These programs all tend to look back instead of looking ahead, and sometimes the perfect candidate like Frost or Jim Harbaugh isn’t always a home run.
Heupel is not what you want right now, and he may never be. But that mindset will lead to yet another coaching quest in four years’ time.
That’s the norm at Rocky Top.
Until that changes, you can’t expect anything more.