Tennessee moved quickly to find its new athletic director, Danny White. Because of that, it was reasonable to assume that the coaching search might get resolved quickly, too. When the program brought aboard Josh Heupel on Wednesday morning, formerly of UCF where he and White teamed up, the reactions appeared to be mixed.
Firstly, the optics of turning Tennessee into “UCF North” aren’t great, admittedly. The university brings in a new AD to find the next coach to lead the program through a tough time and he simply signs the coach from where he just departed. Secondly, there’s not a ton of name recognition with Heupel. Pundits speculated endlessly about who could next take the reins at Tennessee; I didn’t see Heupel’s name mentioned once.
In some ways, the expediency with which the university moved is noteworthy. I haven’t seen any allusions to program impropriety since White was hired. Now the focus narrows even further with the hiring of Heupel. That’s not to say that things won’t eventually come back around to infractions within the program, never mind the legal battle with former coach Jeremy Pruitt, which is likely far from resolved, but for the time being, attention to Tennessee has shifted in a largely positive way.
The new coach spent three years as the head man at Central Florida, amassing records of 12-1, 10-3, and 6-4. Based purely off numbers, the Knights were worse year after year on Heupel’s watch. For the general public, there isn’t much we can conclude about coaching hires before they’ve had time to be fleshed out. We can look at Heupel’s record and we can look at how his former team performed relative to the competition. But for major hires, whether everyone’s initial reaction is right or wrong will be contingent on what he’s done at the conclusion of his tenure; to announce this hiring as a success or failure at this point would be failing to perform one’s due diligence.
While concerns about Heupel’s recruiting acumen are legitimate, his offensive prowess is one widely remarked as being creative or, perhaps, even elite. With Tennessee’s resources, Heupel’s full potential might be unleashed. As noted, it’s too early to tell. While Tennessee Twitter is sounding off, those in the real world are now in charge of making decisions about how to return the program to prominence — calling that a “challenging task” would be an understatement.
Many fans wanted to avoid hiring another coordinator. They got their wish. While I ended up being partial to Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, it may well have been the case that other candidates weren’t too keen on taking a job at a program hemorrhaging players and facing untold potential sanctions. I suspect much of the reluctance accept a coach with the slight name recognition of Heupel is founded mostly on being burned so many times in the past.
While deep cuts often heal, the scars they leave behind can be permanent. After partially ascending and then rapidly descending an uncountable level of mountains over the last decade, Tennessee fans appear reluctant to give their graces so willingly to a new coach — a fact that Heupel probably understands. The truth of the situation is this: There was no singular entity worthy of the title program savior; and if there was, that person wasn’t going to be interested in this job at this time. Moreover, the fan base will seemingly never reach a plurality — much less a majority — regarding agreement on a new head coach.
At this juncture, it’s plausible that the engines of a new coaching search will kick into gear after a few seasons; but it seems equally as plausible that Heupel does a fine job. What constitutes a “fine job” is up for discussion, certainly, but I am of the belief that we should give this new line of leadership an opportunity before relentlessly dogging them out of town.
So after digesting for several hours, how do we feel about the hire now? Let us know below.