The Tennessee Vols moved quickly this week to hire a new athletic director.
On Thursday, Tennessee announced the hiring of Danny White as the program’s new athletic director. White previously served as the athletic director at UCF, where he helped guide the football program to unprecedented success.
The University of Tennessee welcomes Danny White as its new Director of Athletics.
— Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Sports) January 21, 2021
Now that UT has an athletic director in place, we have a little better idea of which coaches could be considered to replace Jeremy Pruitt.
We think White would prefer to hire a sitting head coach that’s offensive-minded. We also know that White is vocal on Twitter and has great energy. Will he look for a coach with similar traits?
Here’s a new, shorter list of coaches that I believe will be considered by White.
Billy Napier — Louisiana head coach
Napier is going to be very selective about his next move. He’s had opportunities to leave Louisiana, but he hasn’t found the right situation yet. Napier is a former Nick Saban assistant — I’m not sure Tennessee wants to go down that route again. But he’s offensive-minded and he’s had a lot of success at Louisiana. Now that White is the athletic director, I think he’d be willing to listen to UT.
Kevin Steele — Interim head coach
I think the hiring of White all but rules out Steele as an option. Steele isn’t really the type of candidate that White seems to prefer. But he’s the acting head coach right now, so he will likely get an interview at the very least. And who knows, maybe Steele ends up impressing White.
Jamey Chadwell — Coastal Carolina head coach
Chadwell is an East Tennessee native. He grew up rooting for the Vols. He’s offensive-minded and he’s done a tremendous job at Coastal Carolina. I’ve heard from folks close to Chadwell that he definitely wants this job. The only concern on Tennessee’s side of things is his lack of Power-5 coaching experience.
Neal Brown — West Virginia head coach
Brown’s name continues to be mentioned. I don’t think he’s going to be at the top of the list, but he fits what White could be looking for in a head coach. Brown went 35-16 in four years at Troy. He’s 10-11 so far in two years at West Virginia. Brown is an offensive guy who previously served as an offensive coordinator at Kentucky, so he has some SEC experience.
Tom Herman — Former Texas head coach
Tennessee’s had good luck with Rick Barnes after he was fired from Texas, so why not try the same approach with Tom Herman?
Herman checks plenty of boxes for Tennessee. He has Power-5 head coaching experience. He’s offensive-minded. And he’s available. The Vols could do a lot worse than Herman, though I could understand how this hire wouldn’t generate a lot of excitement in the fan base.
Lane Kiffin — Ole Miss head coach
If not for Kiffin’s past at Tennessee, I think he’d be at the top of the list for White. Kiffin has SEC head coaching experience. He has a career winning record. He’s offensive-minded (he’s probably the best play-caller in the SEC). And he’s full of energy (Kiffin and White both love to utilize Twitter). Kiffin has some connections to White, too.
White has a degree from Ole Miss where Kiffin is currently the head coach. Another connection is that White’s brother is the athletic director at FAU and worked with Kiffin for two years (he wanted to lock Kiffin up long-term at FAU). Would Tennessee be interested in bringing back Kiffin?
We aren’t sure. But various reports have indicated that Kiffin would be willing to listen to Tennessee.
Josh Heupel — UCF head coach
It would make sense for White to bring Heupel with him to Knoxville. Heupel took over at UCF in 2018 when Scott Frost left for Nebraska. He’s 28-8 so far in three seasons.
Heupel is also offensive-minded (he was the offensive coordinator at Missouri before landing at UCF). The one concern I have probably isn’t fair to Heupel. Frost hasn’t fared well at Nebraska since leaving UCF. I’d be concerned about the same with Heupel if he made the jump to the SEC.
Lance Leipold — Buffalo head coach
I don’t think Leipold will be the guy, but he has to be on the list because of his connection to White (White hired him at Buffalo when he was the athletic director there). Leipold is an offensive guy, but he wouldn’t create much excitement. He was the head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater for seven years before taking over at Buffalo in 2015. He’s 37-33 at Buffalo in six seasons.
Note: Certain names were left off the list because they probably won’t be options. Huge Freeze won’t be considered because of the NCAA investigation. I also don’t think Iowa State’s Matt Campbell will be an option, due to his perceived preference of staying in the midwest (or the NFL).
Featured image via USA TODAY/Kim Klement