The University of Tennessee football program has a new head coach, and it’s not who anyone expected.
Former University of Central Florida coach Josh Heupel is now the Vols’ 27th leader.
Will this new era mark a positive change for the team?
Instances leading up to the new Heupel era
Heupel replaces Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired from his head coaching position last week with cause.
Pruitt served an unremarkable three seasons at Tennessee with a 16-19 overall record – and a dismal 3-7 record during the most recent season.
His reign came to an end after the university uncovered and self-reported a handful of recruiting violations in the program.
At the same time, Philip Fulmer stepped down as athletic director.
Tennessee’s head coach options
The program hired Athletic Director Danny White last Friday, who was then tasked with the challenge of hiring yet another head coach for the program – the fifth coach in eleven years.
After news of Pruitt’s dismissal, Tennessee students and fans were quick to give their opinion as to who the next coach should be.
Hugh Freeze quickly became one of the most requested names.
Monday morning after the announcement of the firing, The Rock on UT campus was painted with the petition “Freeze Please”.
Although Freeze was a strong contender with his SEC history at Ole Miss from 2012-2016, his coaching history was not without scandal.
White’s first choice was reportedly Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. However, Elliott ultimately decided to remain in his current position.
Many offshore sportsbooks posted lines on odds for the next potential head coach. This is not a market you can wager on at a regulated Tennessee online sportsbook.
Interim head coach Kevin Steele appeared as the frontrunner at many offshore sites.
Other top contenders included previous Vols coach Lane Kiffin, Louisiana head coach Billy Napier, and recently-terminated Auburn Tigers head coach Gus Malzhan.
Josh Heupel, on the other hand, was not really considered an option.
Can Josh Heupel revive a sinking program?
Heupel’s football career began at the University of Oklahoma in 1999. He was a close contender for a Heisman Trophy.
In 2001, the Miami Dolphins drafted Heupel in the sixth round, though he never played in an NFL game.
After his professional football career, he transitioned to coaching, serving two years as the offensive coordinator at Missouri.
He then moved on to the head coach position at University of Central Florida, with a 28-8 record throughout his three seasons there.
Danny White hired Heupel at UCF when he previously served as the athletic director there. He knew Heupel quite well before bringing him over to his new post with the Vols.
At a conference announcing the news, White said,
“We ran an exhaustive nationwide search. I know that sounds crazy because I’m hiring the guy I’ve worked with the last three years. If anything, I was trying not to hire the coach from UCF.”
In the end, it was Heupel’s integrity and win record that secured him the job.
Although his overall record is promising, Heupel’s against the spread record is strikingly similar to that of Pruitt’s. Heupel had a 17-18-1 ATS record at UCF, while Pruitt’s record was 15-19-1.
Current odds for Tennessee to win the 2021-22 National Championship at DraftKings are +15000.
Odds for the same market at FanDuel sit at +10000, while odds at BetMGM are +5000.
The Vols enter the 2021-22 season with a home game against Bowling Green and will most likely be a strong favorite in the matchup.
A new head coach could help extend that trend throughout the entire season.