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The Tennessee Volunteers are moving in a different direction. After firing coach Jeremy Pruitt “for cause” on Monday, the next step is finding his replacement in Knoxville. Pruitt had been the head coach for three seasons, going 16-19 during that span.
There were some high-points during his time as a Vol, but there were also several rough patches. Tennessee will be looking for more consistency and stability from whoever gets the job — oh, and no recruiting violations, if possible.
The decision by athletic director Phillip Fulmer to retire could change how this coaching search looks. So, who can fans expect to be on the short list for the Vols? Well, there are still some viable options out there. We’ll start with the most obvious and go from there.
Hugh Freeze, Liberty
Record as HC: 67-34 (.663)
Breakdown: The likelihood of Freeze ending up in Knoxville went up with the retirement of Fulmer. The Liberty head coach just doesn’t seem like a guy Fulmer would have been interested in, so it will be interesting to see what happens with him now.
Would Tennessee consider hiring a guy with a history of NCAA investigations — during an investigation? That’s the big question mark, but there’s no denying that Freeze would do a good job, if given the opportunity. He’s won everywhere he’s been, and Tennessee is his dream job. He’s one of the home runs here.
Billy Napier, Louisiana-Lafayette
Record as HC: 28-11 (.718)
Breakdown: Napier is willing to wait for the right opportunity. That has been proven. So the question becomes … are the Vols the right opportunity? I can’t answer that question, but the Ragin’ Cajuns head coach should be on the short list.
He’s a Tennessee native who knows how to build a program. Like Pruitt, he’s got ties to Nick Saban at Alabama. Would that be considered a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. But this isn’t a coach who is just winning Sun Belt games. He’s had success against Power Five programs too, including a top-10 Iowa State in 2020.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina
Record as HC: 19-17 (.528)
Breakdown: It seems like everybody on this list is a Tennessee native, right? Well, Chadwell is no different. He’s from Caryville, and he played/coached football at East Tennessee State. What he’s done at Coastal Carolina is impressive. He took a 3-9 Chanticleers team in 2017 and turned it into an 11-1 squad just three years later.
His offenses are extremely innovative and difficult to defend, which could make the Vols a headache for teams like Alabama, Georgia and Florida. That has to be appealing, right?
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Record as HC: 70-43 (.619)
Breakdown: Campbell is a coach who should be on everyone’s radar right now. Iowa State just finished with a top-10 ranking after after a successful 9-3 season. No, his teams have never reached the 10-win mark, but between Toledo and Iowa State, four of his 10 seasons included nine wins.
Plus, he’s only had one losing season (2016) as a head coach. The Cyclones aren’t supposed to be competing for Big 12 championships, but here they are. Maybe he would be the right guy to lead a similar charge in the SEC.
Dave Doeren, NC State
Record as HC: 78-50 (.609)
Breakdown: Doeren should be a familiar name for Tennessee fans. The last time the Vols were conducting a coaching search, his name was heavily involved. More importantly, Doeren actually wanted the job. For those reasons alone, he at least has to be involved in the conversation.
He hasn’t done anything particularly special at NC State, however. After going 23-4 at Northern Illinois in 2011-12, his teams are 55-46 (.545) with zero 10-win seasons. With that being said, the Wolfpack have had at least eight wins in three of the last four years. He would probably be considered a solid — but unspectacular — hire.
Tom Herman, Former Texas HC
Record as HC: 54-22 (.711)
Breakdown: No, Herman wasn’t able to bring Texas back. That could have some fans wondering if he can be “that guy” for the Vols, but we should at least acknowledge that he did a decent job in Austin. He was 25-12 (.676) over his last three seasons despite a ton of pressure and involvement from boosters.
He’s also a guy who knows offense, and in the SEC, that is becoming a must. After rolling with the defensive-minded head coach in Pruitt, will Tennessee pivot this time around? It might be a wise choice after struggling to find the right coordinator to go with Pruitt. The man also went 22-4 with Houston prior to his arrival at Texas.
Kevin Steele, Former Auburn DC
Record as HC: 9-36 (.200)
Breakdown: Steele’s landing in Knoxville might not be a coincidence. He was originally brought on to be a defensive assistant, but there is also a chance he gets a look for the head coaching job. How? I’m not even sure, but like I said, his arrival in the middle of a hiring freeze is interesting.
Granted, Steele did play football at Tennessee, so there’s a connection. And his defenses at Auburn were the main reason the Tigers were relevant over the last few seasons. Wouldn’t this feel too much like another Pruitt hire, though? It’s been awhile since he’s been a head coach, and the results aren’t great.
Jeff Fisher, Former Titans/Rams HC
Record as HC: 173-165-1 (.512) — 5-6 postseason (.455)
Breakdown: It’s hard to say if this hire would go over well with Tennessee fans. On one hand, the Tennessee Titans had a Super Bowl appearance under Fisher. That’s quite the accomplishment for a franchise that has only done that once. In 13 seasons in Tennessee, Fisher had 10-plus wins in six of them.
Would that success translate to the college game? It’s hard to tell, but the lack of experience with recruiting would probably be too much to overcome for the 62-year-old coach. It’s a name worth mentioning, I guess.
Other names to monitor: Tom Allen, Doug Marrone, Gus Malzahn, Luke Fickell, Tony Elliott, Brent Venables, Bill Clark, Bob Stoops, Scott Satterfield, Will Healy, Lance Leipold, Bill O’Brien
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.