Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s offseason has been based around filling vacancies.
He added 19 signees during the Early Signing Period, capping off the group with four-star athlete Quavaris Crouch. But it’s an opening on his staff that has captured attention the past few weeks.
The Vols have yet to hire an offensive coordinator, a vacancy created when Tyson Helton left to become Western Kentucky’s head coach. Helton was only on Pruitt’s staff for a year before moving on.
Multiple coaches, including now-Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze, Alabama assistant Dan Enos and now-Florida State offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, have been named as candidates but ended up taking other jobs or staying with their respective programs.
What are the Vols’ current options to fill the offensive coordinator position?
Hire Mike Yurcich away from Oklahoma State
Yurcich, Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator, has been linked to the search for a while.
He has communicated with Pruitt about the job, according to multiple reports, but told GoPokes.com on Dec. 9 that “there’s nothing going on.”
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said on Dec. 15 that, while there is likely some truth to Yurcich’s flirtation with the Vols, “sometimes it’s blown out of proportion” and that he hadn’t heard from anyone at Tennessee, according to TulsaWorld.com
The Cowboys are 6-6 this season. Yurcich’s offense is averaging 306.7 yards and 2.4 touchdowns through the air per game and 192.5 yards and 2.4 touchdowns rushing per game.
Convince Neal Brown to leave Troy head coach job
One candidate that has seldom been mentioned by fans and analysts but could provide a jolt to the Vols’ offense is Troy head coach Neal Brown.
Brown, a rising star in the coaching profession, is 35-16 overall with the Trojans, who beat Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl on Saturday to go to 10-3. He has notched double-digit wins in three of his four seasons at the helm and his offense averaged 215.3 passing yards and 173.8 rushing yards per game this year.
The chances that Brown would leave a head coach job for one as a coordinator, even in the SEC, may not be high, and his buyout at Troy could be a detractor.
But the addition of Brown to Pruitt’s staff could pay off for both parties, as it would give the Vols an offensive coordinator with successful Division I head coaching experience and would allow Brown an opportunity to work in the SEC.
Hire Jeff Lebby away from Central Florida
Central Florida quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby is a candidate who hasn’t been ruled out yet, either.
Lebby reportedly interviewed with Pruitt, according to GoVols247, and hasn’t made any indications of taking another job. This has been his first season at Central Florida.
The Knights are undefeated this season, boasting a 12-0 record, and were led by Lebby pupil Mckenzie Milton before the junior suffered a season-ending injury. He threw for 2,663 yards and 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions before his injury.
Steal Freddie Kitchens from the NFL
This one may be a long shot, but it could also prove to be a strong hire for Pruitt and the Vols.
Kitchens currently serves as the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator and has been noted for inventive play design this season. He also has mentored rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to 3,349 passing yards and 24 touchdowns.
Great play design by Freddie Kitchens to get Landry a walk in TD pic.twitter.com/0tAu2Jadmp— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) December 10, 2018
Kitchens and Pruitt were roommates in college and are known to be friends, which might be a persuading factor if he considers leaving the NFL for a similar position in college football.
Promote Will Friend
It wouldn’t be a shiny hire, but Pruitt would likely feel comfortable in promoting offensive line coach Will Friend to the coordinator spot.
Another former roommate and friend of Pruitt’s, Friend left a job as the offensive coordinator and line coach at Colorado State to join Pruitt at Tennessee. And Pruitt’s melancholic attitude to the position may make him simply promote Friend instead of keeping the search going longer than it already has.
“In a lot of aspects, the offensive coordinator is overrated,” Pruitt said. “Look at some of these teams out here. It is mostly based on talent or lack thereof.”
Friend’s experience as an offensive coordinator and the time he has already spent with Pruitt at Tennessee could also play a factor in his candidacy for the open position.