Tennessee has already found its next athletic director in Danny White. Overall, White has been a popular hire, but his first order of business will now be finding Jeremy Pruitt’s replacement.
There have been several names floated as options, but it looks like the Vols could be closing in on one candidate in particular. According to Austin Price with VolQuest, UCF head coach Josh Heupel is emerging as the favorite to take over in Knoxville.
UCF coach Josh Heupel emerging as top candidate to replace Jeremy Pruitt. ⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️https://t.co/oLSCaKbi7N
— Austin Price (@AustinPriceless) January 27, 2021
So, how is this hire going to go over with Tennessee fans, if it happens? That remains to be seen, but there is some success there. In three seasons with the Golden Knights, Heupel has a 28-8 (.778) record, including two seasons with 10-plus wins.
Granted, there are some who might view the 6-4 record in 2020 as a regression after going 22-4 in the first two years. But Heupel is considered an emerging coach who has shown some capability in developing quarterbacks.
In two years working with Dillon Gabriel, the former three-star prospect has 7,223 passing yards, 61 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He also had six scores on the ground. Heupel has helped turn Gabriel into one of the top-producing signal callers in college football.
At Missouri, Heupel had a big hand in developing Drew Lock. Here is how he progressed with the Tigers:
- 2015: 1,332 yards, 49.0%, 5.1 YPA, 4 TD, 8 INT (before Heupel)
- 2016: 3,399 yards, 54.6%, 7.8 YPA, 23 TD, 10 INT (with Heupel)
- 2017: 3,964 yards, 57.8%, 9.5 YPA, 44 TD, 13 TD (with Heupel)
- 2018: 3,498 yards, 62.9%, 8.0 YPA, 28 TD, 8 INT (after Heupel)
His ability to get the best out of quarterbacks goes all the way back to Oklahoma when he had a major hand in turning Sam Bradford into the No. 1 overall pick.
Considering the lack of quarterback development under Pruitt, the ability to get the best out of a quarterback has got to be appealing for the decision-makers involved with this process. Jarrett Guarantano never improved from his freshman year, and Harrison Bailey never came close to being ready during his first season.
Plus, there is some familiarity there with White, who hired Heupel to come to UCF to replace Scott Frost. His offenses are high-powered and score points, which is something Tennessee needs, considering where the SEC is headed.
Heupel’s offenses over the last four seasons have put up points.
- 2020: No. 8 (42.2 points per game) — at UCF
- 2019: No. 5 (43.4) — at UCF
- 2018: No. 6 (43.2) — at UCF
- 2017: No. 14 (37.5) — at Missouri
If Vol fans are going to fully embrace this hire, stealing Jeff Lebby away from Ole Miss would go a long way. Lebby did great work under Lane Kiffin in 2020 after spending the previous two seasons under Heupel at UCF.
Then maybe keep Kevin Steele around as the defensive coordinator, since it doesn’t look like he’s going away anytime soon. He’s a good defensive mind, and could built a complementary unit opposite a seemingly improved offense.
It’s worth a shot, right?
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.