Examining who could replace Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee
Tennessee fired coach Jeremy Pruitt on Monday, becoming the fourth SEC job to open in the 2020 college football coaching carousel. Pruitt went 16-19 in his tenure and appeared to show progress after a 5-7 debut in 2018. The Volunteers finished 8-5 in ’19 and entered ’20 on a six-game winning streak. However, Tennessee regressed in 2020 and finished 3-7 on a SEC-only slate. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Pruitt was fired for cause, as the program is under investigation for alleged NCAA rules violations. Kevin Steele will work as the program's interim coach until a replacement is named. Athletic director Phil Fulmer is also retiring.
Who could replace Pruitt at Tennessee? Here are 12 names to watch in the coaching search:
12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee
Jamey Chadwell, Head Coach, Coastal Carolina
Chadwell agreed to an extension with Coastal Carolina earlier in December, but he’s still worth a mention here. The Tennessee native went 22-14 at North Greenville in his first chance to be a head coach (2009-11) and went 3-7 in his only year at Delta State (2012). Chadwell took over at Charleston Southern and experienced instant success, winning at least seven games every year and going 35-14 overall. He left to be the offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina but worked as the interim coach after Joe Moglia spent 2017 on medical leave. Chadwell took over on a full-time basis in 2019 and went 16-8 over the last two years, which included a perfect 11-0 regular season in 2020.
Bill Clark, Head Coach, UAB
Clark is a coach with extensive ties to the state of Alabama, and considering what’s he’s built at UAB the last few years, leaving Birmingham won’t be easy. However, Tennessee should inquire to see if he’s interested. Clark has been successful at every stop, including as a high school coach in the state of Alabama. He was hired as the head coach at Jacksonville State in 2013 and went 11-4 with a trip to the FCS Playoff. Clark guided UAB to a 6-6 mark in his debut (2014), but the program shut down its football team at the end of the year. After a two-season absence on the gridiron, the Blazers made their return in 2017 and finished 8-5 with a bowl trip. UAB went 11-3 with a C-USA title in 2018, followed by a 9-5 mark in ’19 and a 6-3 record in ’20.
Dave Doeren, Head Coach, NC State
Doeren’s name popped up in the last search at Tennessee. He’s 55-46 at NC State since taking over in 2013 and guided the program to five consecutive bowl trips from 2014-18. The Wolfpack finished 4-8 in 2019 but rebounded to 8-4 in ’20. Prior to NC State, Doeren went 23-4 at Northern Illinois and lost just one game in MAC play. Doeren also has stints on his resume as an assistant at Kansas and Wisconsin.
Tony Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Elliott played his college ball at Clemson and has worked at his alma mater since 2011. The California native arrived in Death Valley in 2011 after spending two years at South Carolina State (2006-07) and three at Furman (2008-10). Elliott coached running backs from 2011-14 before taking over as the team’s play-caller in ’15. Clemson’s offense has consistently ranked among the nation’s best with Elliott calling the plays.
Luke Fickell, Head Coach, Cincinnati
Fickell will be mentioned in this search, but it seems unlikely he will be a serious candidate for this job. The Ohio native is 35-14 at Cincinnati and has recorded 31 wins over the last three years. The Bearcats were the top Group of 5 team in 2020 and nearly defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Fickell doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to jump to a Power 5 program, but Tennessee should at least inquire to see if there’s any interest.
Hugh Freeze, Head Coach, Liberty
It’s no secret Tennessee is a job that Freeze would be interested in. The Mississippi native spent time as a Tennessee high school coach before landing on Ole Miss’ staff in 2006. After a two-year stint as an assistant, he was the head coach at Lambuth (2008-09) and spent time as the offensive coordinator and head coach at Arkansas State before going to Ole Miss in 2012. Freeze resigned due to conduct off-the-field but went 39-25 over five years. He’s 18-6 in two seasons at Liberty and has posted winning records in back-to-back years. Overall, Freeze is 87-38 as a head coach.
Will Healy, Head Coach, Charlotte
Healy was in the mix at Vanderbilt, and he’s primed to be a head coach at a Power 5 program in the near future. The Tennessee native inherited an Austin Peay program in need of major repair in 2016 and went 0-11 in his debut. However, the Governors improved to 13-10 over the next two years, which helped Healy land the job at Charlotte. The 49ers finished 7-6 with the program’s first bowl trip in Healy’s debut last fall and went 2-4 in 2020.
Tom Herman, Former Texas Head Coach
Herman was dismissed as the head coach at Texas in early January following the 2020 season. In his four years with the Longhorns, Herman went 32-18 overall and 22-13 in Big 12 play. Texas made one Big 12 Championship Game appearance under Herman and never finished with a losing record. He also went 22-4 as the head coach at Houston from 2015-16.
Rhett Lashlee, Offensive Coordinator, Miami
Lashlee is a rising star in the assistant ranks and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to run a program. The Arkansas native started his on-field coaching career at Samford (2011) and made other stops at Arkansas State (2012), Auburn (2013-16), UConn (2017) and SMU (2018-19) before landing in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes showed improvement in Lashlee’s first year directing the offense, helping the program make a two-game jump in the win column.
Gus Malzahn, Former Auburn Head Coach
Malzahn was dismissed at Auburn this offseason but could bring a level of stability to a Tennessee program that’s experienced a lot of turnover in recent years. The Texas native went 68-35 with the Tigers and led the program to the national championship in 2013. The Tigers never won fewer than six games and went 39-27 in SEC play since ’13.
Billy Napier, Head Coach, Louisiana
Napier’s name has popped up for openings at South Carolina and Auburn this offseason, and he’s expected to be near the top of Tennessee’s list. In three years at Louisiana, Napier is 28-11 with three Sun Belt West Division titles. Additionally, the 11 victories in 2019 were the best for a single year in program history. Napier also spent time as an assistant at Clemson (2006-10), Alabama (2013-16) and Arizona State (2017) prior to taking over at Louisiana.
Kevin Steele, Defensive Assistant
Steele was recently added to the staff as a defensive assistant after working at Auburn from 2016-20. The South Carolina native played his college ball at Tennessee and worked on Rocky Top as an assistant in 1982 and again from 1987-88. Steele has a wealth of experience in the SEC, including stints at Alabama and LSU. He was the head coach at Baylor from 1999-02 and went 9-36 over those four years.