Tennessee Coach search: Every name on the internet

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KNOXVILLE, TN – January 22, 2021 – Director of Athletics Danny White during his introductory press conference of as Athletic Director in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Typically when a school is conducting a coaching search, we in the media create a “hot board” highlighting a handful of names.

In the spirit of new Tennessee Athletic Director Danny White, I’m casting a wide net and compiling a list under his mantra of “everyone in this room is a candidate.” In this case, the “room” is the internet.

In a combination of reports released by my well-respected peers, betting odds and maybe a few rumors, here’s the list:

Joe Brady

The Panthers offensive coordinator currently has +2500 odds on Sportsline and everyone’s new favorite internet game of “who’s that guy exiting the Tennessee jet,” has Vol Twitter wondering if it’s Brady. The 31-year old has been reportedly courted by many programs during this recent coaching cycle, but it looks like he’ll stick with Matt Rhule and call plays for the Panthers in 2021.

Jamey Chadwell

The Coastal Carolina head coach had the college football playoff debaters all riled up when he led his No. 9 Chanticleers to an 11-0 regular season before ultimately falling to Hugh Freeze’s (we’ll get to him in a moment) Liberty Flames in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. Chadwell is a Caryville, Tennessee native whose son, Jameson Heath Chadwell, is named after VFL Heath Shuler. Despite signing an extension that keeps him at CCU until the 2027 season, if the Tennessee job is offered to him, I have a hard time believing he would turn it down. Chadwell also has some baggage, having to vacate wins at Charleston Southern.

Bill Clark

“Build” was the buzzword of the hour during Danny White’s introductory press conference, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who embodies the word more than the UAB head football coach. Just one year after their football program was shut down for two years, Clark led the Blazers to an 11-3 season. He was awarded the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award for his work rebuilding the program.

Sonny Dykes

ESPN’s Chris Low said on 104.5’s 3HL radio show the SMU head coach is a candidate to watch, and I think it’s safe to say CLow knows his stuff. The offensive-minded head coach has experience coaching in the Power 5 and in 2019, led the Mustangs to their first 10-win season since 1984.

Tony Elliott

The Clemson offensive coordinator’s name has been thrown out there in both the NFL and college ranks. Reportedly, Mike Vrabel gauged his interest in the Titans offensive coordinator position. Most recently, Elliot was a candidate for the South Carolina head coaching vacancy, but turned them down. He’s far and away one of the top assistant coaches in all of college football and won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach in 2017.

Luke Fickell

Tennessee fans may have some apprehension for hiring another Cincinnati head coach after Butch Jones, but did Jones ever coach the Bearcats to a No. 8 national ranking at the end of the season? Fickell is primed to make the jump to a Power 5 program after going 31-6 over the past three seasons. In fact, the Eagles looked at Fickell this off-season as well.

PJ Fleck

Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins’ reported on Monday that Fleck isn’t interested. Coaches have said that before and ended up in positions they reportedly “weren’t interested in,” so let’s give Fleck his due. He led the Gophers to a 26-19 record over the last four seasons, including two bowl victories. In 2019, they defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl for their 11th win, their most in a season in 115 years.

James Franklin

People ’round here know Franklin as the former Vanderbilt head coach who brought the Dores some of their best football years before leaving for Penn State. UT Chancellor Donde Plowman made it abundantly clear that “integrity” was one of the most important qualities in the Vols next head coach, which may rule out Franklin for his mishandling of the situation involving multiple players being charged with rape during his time on West End and the lawsuit filed against him for alleged hazing at Penn State.

Hugh Freeze

Shoot, did I already use the integrity bit on the last guy? Bump for Freeze. I know fans see the 10-1 record at Liberty and his success at Ole Miss, but I have a hard time believing the Tennessee brass and the SEC would welcome Freeze to Knoxville after his role in the Rebel’s two-year bowl ban.

Will Healy

Remember him? The 35-year old Chattanooga native coached Austin Peay to a 7-1 OVC record, setting a school record for most wins ever in a season. In 2016, his recruiting class was ranked top 5 in FCS football and No. 1 in 2017. His first year in Charlotte saw the 49ers reach a bowl game. The 2020 season was highly-impacted by COVID with Charlotte only playing 6 games and going 2-4.

Tom Herman

The recently-fired Texas football coach has a .71 winning percentage and has never lost a bowl game (5-0). He won’t be cheap and could opt to sit back and enjoy his $15.4 million buyout. He has Power 5 experience galore with stints at Iowa State and Ohio State before coming to Texas.

Lane Kiffin

Maybe some fans need to get a full night’s sleep on their torch-stained mattresses because really? Kiffin? I understand more than a decade has passed, but fool me once right? Let’s do what Kiffin is currently doing on Twitter right now and entertain the idea, just for fun. After a 5-5 season, Kiffin would do to Ole Miss what he did to Tennessee. Before heading to Oxford, he won two C-USA Titles with Florida Atlantic, totaling a 26-13 record in three seasons with the Owls.

Lance Leipold

White hired Leipold in Buffalo, so they’re tight. Before making the jump to Division I, he won six DIII titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Since captaining the Bulls in 2015, he has taken the program from a 5-win season in year one, a 2-win season in year two to a 24-10 record over the past three seasons.

Gus Malzahn

I mentioned buyout figures with Tom Herman, but Tommy ain’t got nothin’ on Gus. Malzahn will collect $21.45 million from Auburn after being let go following the 2020 season. Does the 55-year-old want to hang out with his two daughters and wife Kristi for a bit or does the National Champion want to jump right back into the SEC grind?

Billy Napier

The Cookeville, TN native and former quarterback has put the “Ragin” in Rajun’ Cajun for Louisiana football since taking over in 2018. In his three seasons at the helm, he has gone 28-11. His squads have earned trips to three-straight bowl games and won two of them. Napier has experience in the Southeastern Conference with two stints at Alabama, once as an analyst and once as the wide receivers coach.

Bill O’Brien

The Vols are looking for some leadership, what better than a former NFL General Manager? It’s hard to express sarcasm over the internet, so here’s your alert – that was sarcastic. Ok, but BOB did lead the Texans to four Division Championships in six seasons before being fired after four games in 2020. Did I forget to mention he’s also currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama?

Scott Satterfield

Power 5 experience is an attractive plus to Satterfield who has been the head coach at Louisville for the past two seasons. Before then, he went 51-24 at Appalachian State, winning three conference titles and three (out of three) Bowl games. His Mountaineers won 9-plus games each of his last four years and went 7-1 in conference. He took the Cardinals to an 8-5 season in his first year at the helm but regressed in year two with a 4-7 record in 2020.

Kevin Steele

The current acting head coach of the Vols joined the program as a defensive assistant a week before Jeremy Pruitt was fired. He was rumored to be in the running for the Auburn job after Malzhan’s departure and was a finalist for the Vols job in 2017. Do the Vols want to go with another SEC coordinator? He is a VFL, but his head coaching record while at Baylor is 9-37.

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