Texarkana Gazette

NCAA probe is ‘speed bump’ to Volunteers’ new coach Josh Heupel

- By Teresa M. Walker

Josh Heupel believes he can win quickly at Tennessee and position the football program for long-term success. He’s so confident that not even the specter of NCAA sanctions deterred him from joining his former UCF boss in a package deal for the Volunteers.

Heupel was introduced Wednesday as the program’s 27th head coach and fifth, not counting interim or acting coaches, since the end of the 2008 season. He replaces Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired Jan. 18 after an investigat­ion into recruiting issues.

He said he talked “frankly” with Tennessee leadership about what happened and the anticipate­d punishment.

“I believe that there’s a minor speed bump that we’re going through, but the kids that are in our program right now and the kids that are being recruited are all going to have an opportunit­y to go play and chase championsh­ips,” Heupel said.

His optimism was rewarded with a six-year deal worth $4 million a year. Tennessee will pay half of Heupel’s buyout from UCF, and his contract has a clause extending his deal in case of a postseason ban of two or more years or if eight or more scholarshi­ps are cut.

New athletic director Danny White said Tennessee ran an “exhaustive nationwide search” led by the same search firm that helped land

White. But he said Heupel was his No. 1 option even after that process.

White was hired last week to replace the retiring Phillip Fulmer and hiring a new coach was his first task. He met with the team to learn what players wanted in a coach, and he pointed to the production of Heupel’s teams as examples of the high-powered style coming to town.

“I just kind of realized that the best option is the guy that I’ve been working with the last three years,” White said.

Heupel was 28-8 in three seasons at UCF, where White hired him to replace Scott Frost after the Knights went 13-0 in 2017. Heupel noted UCF had 10 opt-outs during the pandemic when asked about going 6-4 in 2020.

Tennessee is conducting an internal investigat­ion with outside attorneys hired to look into recruiting issues that Chancellor Donde Plowman called “stunning” after the firing of Pruitt, two assistants and seven others. The NCAA opened a case in December and has had investigat­ors involved the past couple weeks.

Tennessee has had five winning seasons since last winning the Southeaste­rn Conference’s Eastern Division in 2007. That was also the last time the Vols had double-digit wins. Their last SEC title was in 1998 when Tennessee won its last national championsh­ip.

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