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Tennessee head coaching search hot board 2.0

The next wave of names.

NCAA Football: Clemson Practice Anderson Independent Mail-USA TO

The search for the next Tennessee head football coach is officially underway — and things have changed since our last hot board post. The Volunteers have a new athletics director, and it’s a game-changer. Danny White is now in charge of that department and is currently leading his own search for the next Tennessee football coach.

White has an outstanding track record in that department, coming off of hiring Lance Leipold at Buffalo, and Scott Frost at UCF. Both of those hires led to the turnaround of a program, so what’s his move at Tennessee?

Well, to this point, things are staying pretty tight-lipped. Expect it to stay that way with a search firm in place, but for the time being, let’s speculate on a few names.

Tony Elliott

FootballScoop has floated Elliott’s name as a possibility, considering the link between he and Danny White back at UCF. Elliott was a candidate to replace Scott Frost back in 2017.

This has been one of the hotter names of this year’s coaching carousel, both on the college and NFL side. Elliott, who has been with Clemson since 2011, just finished up his first full season as the only true offensive coordinator on staff for the Tigers. He’s served as co-offensive coordinator since 2015, but was handed the keys to the car fully in 2020. Before that, Elliott was the running backs coach for Clemson. He’s also spent time as a receivers coach at Furman and South Carolina State.

Elliott, now 41 years old, does not have head coaching experience. Furthermore, his offenses have revolved around Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, along with a boatload of NFL talent around them. Elliott would come with plenty of question marks, walking into a massive rebuild for his first head coaching gig.

Matt Campbell

How much does the hiring of White matter? Enough to attract a guy like Matt Campbell away from Iowa State? Campbell has turned down several offers over the past few years to remain in Ames, where he will likely return a top ten team for next season. Though the Tennessee gig looks better than it did a few days ago, the Vols still are facing several potential sanctions. It may be too much for Campbell to take on, who has been selective about his next move.

The work he’s done at Iowa State has simply been incredible, and it may even get an NFL gig one day.

P.J. Fleck

Fleck just finished up year four at Minnesota, going 3-4 in a shortened season. However, his 11-2 campaign in 2019 can’t be ignored, as Fleck has gradually built the Golden Gophers back to a respectable program.

Fleck took Western Michigan from a 1-11 2013 season to a 13-1 2016 season. Now with two separate builds from the ground up, would Fleck entertain a move south to take on the Tennessee challenge? is reporting that he’s been vetted by the search firm.

He holds a 56-41 overall record over eight seasons as a head coach. The 40 year old would need an infusion of southern recruiting ties on his staff, but this is a proven program builder and would be a fascinating fit on Rocky Top.

Sonny Dykes

Dykes is another name that has been connected to White’s search to this point by a few different people. FootballScoop reported that Tennessee has vetted Dykes for the job.

The offensive head coach has a background under Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. He got his first shot as a head coach at Louisiana Tech in 2010, growing that program to a 9-3 mark in 2012. He turned that into the Cal gig, where he flamed out after four seasons. Dykes landed at SMU, where he’s been able to keep his offense rolling. SMU went 10-3 in 2019 and 7-3 in 2020.

His high-powered offensive attack is appealing, but there’s been no evidence of Dykes being able to win at a high level so far. This hire would be a tough sell.

Jamey Chadwell

Chadwell makes his second appearance on the hot board after his magical season at Coastal Carolina. The Tennessee native went 5-7 in his first season with the Chanticleers, then followed that up with an 11-1 mark in 2020. Chadwell is another guy with an offensive background, but is he ready for this big of a job? That’s up to Danny White now. We’ll see if Chadwell’s name gets involved here.

Billy Napier

Would Napier entertain this job now with more stability at the top of the Tennessee leadership structure? He’s turned down several jobs during his time with Louisiana, as he’s grown the Ragin’ Cajuns into one of the best group of five programs out there. Napier just put the finishing touches on an 11-1 season, finishing ranked in the top 15 of the AP Poll.

The former Clemson and Alabama assistant will eventually take a big job — could this be it?

Other names to know

Gus Malzahn and Tom Herman both make some sense as guys that have been there and done that. If White wants to find some stability, both of those guys should be high on his list, although it’s been quiet on both fronts to this point.

Going more off of the ties directly to White, we should mention Lance Leipold. The Buffalo head coach was hired by White and has flipped that program into three consecutive bowl berths. Leipold won six DIII titles before landing at Buffalo. Josh Heupel is White’s latest hire at UCF, taking over for Scott Frost. He’s at least worth a mention, but a 6-4 2020 season likely hurts his chances.