Tennessee made the decision to fire Jeremy Pruitt on Monday after three seasons in charge of the football program and as a result it’s officially hot board time in Tennessee for the first time since 2017.
Pruitt was fired with cause for alleged NCAA violations under his watch, meaning Pruitt’s buyout of $12.8 million will not be paid. The buyout for Pruitt and his staff as a whole is $18.6 million. The 46-year-old signed a contract extension just before the season began that extended his contract through the 2025 season. Pruitt’s salary was set to increase to $4.2 million beginning in 2021.
The decision comes on the heels of an investigation into the program and a disappointing 3-7 season. Tennessee lost seven of its eight games after beginning the season 2-0. Each loss this season was by double-digits and UT lost five home games by an average of 22 points.
Our hot board is divided into four different categories. We have the “realistic options,” those who are “worthy of a call,” and the “long-shots.”
Here is our extensive list of Tennessee’s head coaching candidates.
Former Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien
O’Brien has been rumored to be in line to be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator after Steve Sarkisian accepted the head coaching job at Texas. O’Brien could view the OC job in Tuscaloosa more attractive than Tennessee’s head coaching job, but UT should still kick the tires with the former Penn State and Houston Texans head coach.
The Massachusetts native struggled during his most recent coaching stint in Houston. It’s important to remember, however, that Tennessee would be hiring O’Brien the head coach and not O’Brien the general manager. O’Brien has proven to be a good coach over the course of his career dating back to his time with the New England Patriots and his time at Penn State while navigating the nasty scandal involving Jerry Sandusky.
Former Jackson Jaguars coach Doug Marrone
Marrone has ties to Tennessee dating back to his time as an assistant coach under Phillip Fulmer. As a result, Marrone was connected to the coaching search in 2017 and he’s also been connected to the current one in recent weeks. Reports began circulating on Monday night that he was in play to be Alabama’s new offensive line coach.
Marrone found success at Syracuse, compiling two eight-win seasons over the course of four seasons with the Orange. The success of Marrone at Syracuse can be appreciated by simply looking at what the school accomplished before and after he departed for the NFL. Marrone also found success with the Bills, leading them to their first winning record during the 2014 season, their first in a decade. A few years later he led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game before Tom Coughlin ruined his roster by running off several star players.
Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell
An intriguing option who currently has interest in the job is Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell. He’s a Tennessee native who played quarterback at East Tennessee State in the 90’s and generated quite the buzz this past season by guiding the Chanticleers to an 11-1 record after going 3-9 in his first season three years ago.
Tennessee desperately needs to improve on offense and develop a quarterback quickly. Chadwell is capable of doing so with his quirky offensive system that typically features two backs in the backfield. He’s yet to hold a job in any capacity at a Power 5 program.
Tennessee interim coach Kevin Steele
Tennessee’s interim coach in the wake of firing Jeremy Pruitt will be considered for the job. Steele, who served as Auburn’s defensive coordinator for five seasons before being hired last week as a defensive assistant, was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football in 2017.
Steele has strong ties to Tennessee. He played for the Vols under Johnny Majors and then began his coaching career under him as well. Steele was a finalist for the Vols’ head-coaching job in 2018 when Pruitt was hired. It would have been Steele’s second head coaching job. He went 9-36 as Baylor’s head coach from 1999-2002.
UAB head coach Bill Clark
Clark makes more sense following the announcement that Phillip Fulmer will soon be retiring as Tennessee’s athletic director. With Fulmer on the way out and UAB athletic director Mark Ingram a legitimate candidate, Ingram could bring Clark with him to Knoxville if he were to get the job.
The UAB head coach deserves a call regardless of his connection to Ingram. Clark has worked a miracle in Birmingham, bringing UAB’s football program back from the dead to lead the Blazers to three consecutive division titles and two Conference USA titles during that time. Like Chadwell, Clark has yet to hold any position at a Power 5 program.
Former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell
Peyton Manning will be involved this coaching search and as a result, the former NFL coach could get a look as Manning has great respect for Caldwell. The two went to the Super Bowl together with the Colts in 2009 and worked together from 2009-12.
Caldwell has plenty of coaching experience under his belt. He was the head coach at Wake Forest for eight seasons where he went 28-63 before jumping to the NFL to be an assistant coach. He was then hired by the Colts where he went 26-22 over three seasons. Caldwell then guided the Lions to a 36-28 record over the course of four seasons. He is 62-50 overall as a head coach in the NFL.
Go to the next page to see which candidates are worthy of a phone call.