New Tennessee athletic director Danny White didn’t have to look far to land his head football coach.
Sources told ESPN that White is hiring Josh Heupel from UCF as the next head coach of Flights. White also hired Heupel when White was the athletic director of UCF. Tennessee called a team meeting Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m.
White, announced last Thursday as Tennessee’s new AD, worked quickly to find a replacement for Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired for cause on Jan. 18 following an investigation which revealed what University Chancellor Donde Plowman has called “serious violations of NCAA rules”. White cast a wide net through the Parker research firm and contacted and / or interviewed several candidates including James Franklin of Penn State, Luke Fickell of Cincinnati, Sonny Dykes of SMU, PJ Fleck of Minnesota and the Clemson offensive coordinator. Tony Elliott, among others.
Sources told ESPN that Elliott had had serious discussions over the past few days about the position, but refused openings from Tennessee and opted to stay at Clemson.
Heupel, 42, has been UCF’s head coach for the past three seasons after taking over from Scott Frost, who guided UCF to an unbeaten 13-0 record in 2017. Heupel has a record 28-8 with the Knights, including a 12-1 record in their first season in 2018. They finished 6-4 last season. Heupel owes UCF a buyout of $ 3.4 million under the terms of its contract.
UCF have ranked in the top 8 nationally in offensive scoring during their three seasons at Orlando and have averaged at least 42.2 points per game over the three seasons.
A Heisman Trophy finalist as a quarterback for the 2000 Oklahoma National Championship team, Heupel has SEC coaching experience. He was the offensive coordinator / quarterbacks coach in 2016-17 before landing the UCF head coach position. Heupel was also a co-offensive coordinator / quarterback coach under Bob Stoops in Oklahoma for four seasons, but was fired after the 2014 season when the Sooners went 8-5.
Heupel is said to be the Flights’ sixth different head coach, returning to Phillip Fulmer, who was fired at the end of the 2008 season.