Tennessee has moved on from head football coach Jeremy Pruitt following a 16-19 record in three seasons and an internal investigation into recruiting violations.
With director of athletics Phillip Fulmer resigning, Tennessee won't hire a new coach until a new athletic director is in place.
Nevertheless, here’s our first hot board as Tennessee looks to find Pruitt’s successor.
The popular choice amongst Vol fans to replace Pruitt, Freeze made his name during his five seasons as the head coach at Ole Miss.
While in Oxford, Freeze took the Rebels’ program to unprecedented heights, beating No. 1 Alabama in 2014 and the No. 2 Crimson Tide in 2015, on their way to a pair of New Year's Six bowl bids. Freeze exited Ole Miss with a 39-25 record and a Sugar Bowl win.
Freeze’s decline at Ole Miss started with NCAA investigations into recruiting violations, which could make him an unlikely candidate at UT due to the violations that helped lead to Pruitt’s departure. Freeze’s tenure in Oxford ended after reports about Freeze having an extramarital affair with escorts during recruiting visits.
Freeze admitted to the accusations and sat out two seasons before returning to coaching as Liberty University’s head coach where he’s led the Flames to an 18-6 record
Freeze proposed to his wife in Neyland Stadium and has called Tennessee “a dream job.”
A Carryville, Tennessee native, Chadwell led Coastal Carolina to an 11-1 record in his second season at the head of the Chanticleers program.
Chadwelll took over in Myrtle Beach in 2019 as the Chanticleers were struggling to make the jump from FCS to FBS. After going 3-9 and 5-7 in Coastal’s first two seasons in the FBS. Chadwell’s Chanticleers went 5-7 in 2019 before making the leap to 11-1 this season.
Before his tenure at Coastal Carolina, the east Tennessee native served as the head coach at Coastal Carolina where he was twice named the FCS Coach of the Year.
Chadwell is an east Tennessee native with an offensive background.
The Tennessee active head coach could be a legit candidate for the coaching job at his alma mater. Steele, a 62-year old, would give Tennessee a veteran coaching presence as they try to navigate the likely coming NCAA violations.
Steele is a veteran SEC defensive coordinator who’s had stints at LSU, Alabama and most recently Auburn.
The Dillon, South Carolina native has previous head coaching experience when he spent a disastrous three seasons as Baylor’s head coach. With Steele at the helm, the Bears went 9-36 from 1999-2002.
Steele began his coaching career in Knoxville after graduating from UT, spending time as a graduate assistant and defensive back coach.
A Cookeville, Tennessee native, Napier has been a hot coaching candidate after three successful years at Louisiana. Napier has a 28-11 record in his three seasons including an impressive 10-1 record with an upset win over Iowa State.
Napier has taken the Ragin’ Cajuns to the Sun Belt champion in all three seasons as head coach and has a 3-0 record against Freeze and Chadwell.
Before his time as Louisiana’s head coach, Napier served as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator and Alabama’s receiving coach.
Napier has been reluctant to leave Louisiana, turning down interest from Auburn and South Carolina.
Malzahn recently entered the market as Auburn moved on from Malzahn after eight seasons as head coach.
The Arkansas native took the SEC by storm with his up tempo, read0option offense, making the National Championship and winning the SEC in his first season. Malzahn wouldn’t win the SEC again and only made it back to the championship game once (2017).
Outside of the two SEC west championships, Malzahn’s teams were often solid, winning eight or nine games four times in his eight seasons.
Malzahn’s biggest achievement was his respectable 3-5 record against Alabama’s dynasty under Nick Saban. His failure to consistently beat Auburn’s other rivals, LSU and Georgia, led to his dismay. Malzahn went 2-6 against Georgia and 3-5 against LSU.
One complication with Malazahn is the presence of Kevin Steele on Tennessee’s staff. Steele served as Malzahn’s defensive coordinator at Auburn and was reportedly eager to become the Tiger’s head coach when they moved on from Malzahn.
Allen has led the Indiana program to relevance in his four seasons as the Hoosier’s head coach. After two average 5-7 seasons in his first two years at Indiana, Allen got the Hoosiers back to a bowl game with an 8-5 record in 2019.
After losing to Tennessee in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, Indiana’s program leapt to new heights in the Big 10’s shortened 2020 season.
Allen led the Hoosiers to a 6-2 record including wins over Penn State and Michigan.
Before becoming head coach at Indiana, Allen served as a defensive assistant coach at a plethora of schools, including Indiana and Ole Miss.
A year after having a three touchdown, first half lead on the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs, O'Brien was out as general manager and head coach of the Houston Texans.
Poor decisions, headlined by trading star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, have made O'Brien a laughing stock in the past months. However, there could be mutual interest with O'Brien.
The 51-year old succeeded Joe Paterno at Penn State and helped stabilize the Nittany Lions' program amidst NCAA sanctions.
That stabilizing factor could make him attractive to Tennessee while the NCAA is in Knoxville investigating.
Rumors have linked O'Brien to Alabama's offensive coordinator job that became open after Steve Sarkisian left to be Texas' head coach.
A long shot candidate to replace Pruitt is Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is no stranger to Knoxville as he replaced Phillip Fulmer as the Vols' head coach in 2009.
Kiffin spent just one year in Knoxville before bolting for Southern Cal where he spent three seasons as USC's head coach.
Kiffin was no stranger to NCAA violations while in Knoxville and his nature as a loose canon makes him an unlikely candidate to replace Pruitt. However, Kiffin is a great offensive coach whose philosophy matches the direction football is moving.
The only candidate on this list without head coaching experience, Mayo is one of the up and coming coaches in the NFL, joining Bill Belichick's staff after a successful eight year playing career in New England.
Mayo is also the only Tennessee grad on this list as the linebacker played in Knoxville from 2005-07. Mayo led the SEC in tackles in 2007, his junior season.
Mayo's flaws are his lack of head coaching experience and lack of coaching in college.
Still, Mayo could be a name to watch and has reportedly interviewed with NFL teams this off-season.