On Monday morning, news broke that first year Tennessee offensive coordinator Tyson Helton would be headed to Western Kentucky University to becomes the Hilltoppers’ new head coach. He was the offensive coordinator for Western Kentucky from 2014 to 2015.
These reports were confirmed on Tuesday when the university itself announced Helton as the new man at the helm, leaving Tennessee with a glaring hole to fill.
Here are some of the names that could fill the gap left by Helton’s departure.
Hugh Freeze, former Ole Miss head coach
Though there would be some obvious baggage that would come with Freeze’s hiring, with the previous NCAA investigation that caused him to step down as the head coach at Ole Miss, he was reportedly one of Tennessee’s top targets in the early-goings of the hunt.
It isn’t hard to see why. Despite his checkered past, Freeze has a proven track record of being able to coach offense. From 2012-2014, during his head coaching tenure, the Rebels averaged 3,438 yards through the air and 2,250 rushing yards per season.
Recently, however, reports from ESPN’s Bruce Feldman have halted the apparent traction between Freeze and Tennessee.
Dan Enos, Alabama quarterbacks coach
Enos is currently serving as the quarterbacks coach at the University of Alabama; his first year in this position. Under his tutelage, Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagavailoa has thrown for 3,189 yards and 36 touchdowns to just two interceptions this season. He has emerged as the favorite to win the Heisman trophy.
Prior to his current tenure, Enos was the offensive coordinator for the Arkansas Razorbacks from 2015-2017, meaning Tennessee had coach Jeremy Pruitt is likely somewhat familiar with Enos. He also runs a pro-style system, meaning he fits with Pruitt’s offensive philosophy.
During his first season at Arkansas, his offense ranked first amongst SEC schools in scoring in conference games, averaging 34.4 points per game. They scored 50-plus points on four different occasions.
There has been some scuttle, however, that Enos would become the new offensive coordinator at Alabama if Mike Locksley, their current, were to depart for a different role.
Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator
Kitchens is serving in his first season as the offensive coordinator for the NFL team, the Cleveland Browns, a position he has only held for about a month. Under his tutelage, the Browns offense has seen an uptick in production.
In their 10 red zone possessions with Kitchens as the offensive coordinator, they have scored a touchdown in each. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield had eight touchdowns to six interceptions before Kitchens took over and nine touchdowns to just one interception since.
Kitchens and Pruitt played on the same Alabama football team from 1995-1996; Kitchens was the quarterback while Pruitt played safety, which means that they have a longstanding connection. In addition to his tenure with the browns, Kitchens has been an NFL coach for 12 years.
Chip Lindsey, Auburn offensive coordinator
Like Pruitt, Lindsey spent his coaching career working up the high school ranks before getting hired as the quarterbacks coach at Troy in 2010. In 2007, he was the offensive coordinator at Hoover high, a year after Pruitt departed.
Before joining the Tigers last season, he was the offensive coordinator for Arizona State for one season in 2016. In 2017, Auburn ranked 26th nationally in total offense and scored 327 points in conference play.
That production has dropped off this season, however. The Tigers currently rank 95th in the nation in total offense, averaging just 373.6 yards per game and 71st in the nation in scoring, averaging 28.3 points per game.
Bryan McClendon, South Carolina offensive coordinator
McClendon is in his first season as offensive coordinator for the Gamecocks after serving as the co-offensive coordinator wide receivers coach last season. Prior to that, he spent eight years coaching with the Georgia Bulldogs where he bumped into to Pruitt.
While Pruitt was serving as the defensive coordinator from 2014-2015, McClendon was the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. At the end of the 2015 season, he was named the interim head coach, leading the Bulldogs to a win in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
McClendon’s name was mentioned for a position with Tennessee’s staff last season — namely wide receivers coach, as Pruitt was trying to fill out his first-year staff. He instead accepted the offensive coordinator spot at South Carolina, where he has directed the 33rd nationally ranked offense.
An internal hire
Though it may not be flashy, Pruitt is just as likely as anything to turn within Tennessee’s own ranks for a new offensive coordinator, and there are a few viable candidates. Perhaps the most likely is offensive line coach Will Friend. He has experience as an offensive coordinator, with a previous stop at Colorado State in that role.
Friend and Pruitt coached together at Georgia as well, with Friend serving as the offensive line coach there during Pruitt’s tenure. They also played together at Alabama.
Other names to watch currently on Tennessee’s staff are running backs coach Chris Weinke and analysts Joe Osovet and John Lilly. Weinke has never served as an offensive coordinator, but he was an offensive analyst with Alabama last season while Pruitt was the defensive coordinator.
Osovet was considered for the open wide receivers coach job last season but was eventually turned down. Instead, he was added the Vols’ staff as an offensive quality control analyst. As a head coach at ASA College in New York, a junior college, he was often lauded for his offensive innovation, using the now wildly popular RPO system before it was widely known.
Lilly, a former tight ends coach at Georgia, has brief experience calling the shots on offense. He served as the offensive coordinator twice for Georgia in bowl games following the 2014 and 2015 seasons.