Central Florida coach Josh Heupel has finalized a deal to become the next coach at Tennessee.
Sources told Yahoo Sports that Heupel was working on a deal with the Volunteers early Wednesday morning. Tennessee announced that Heupel would be its next coach just before 9 a.m. ET.
Tennessee’s move to hire Heupel will reunite him with his old athletic director, Danny White, who became the AD in Knoxville less than a week ago.
The decision culminates a frenetic week for White, who came from UCF last week and ultimately decided to bring his old coach with him after an extensive search. Other names that were associated with Tennessee’s search included Penn State’s James Franklin, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and Buffalo’s Lance Leipold.
Heupel is expected to make in the neighborhood of $4 million annually, which will leave him an ample salary pool for a big-name defensive coordinator and a staff that can recruit the SEC footprint. Tennessee’s search faced significant headwinds, as the athletic department is in financial turmoil, the program is under NCAA investigation and White was tasked with having to explain to candidates that he couldn’t quantify how serious the inevitable NCAA sanctions would be.
Heupel brings a 28-8 record in three seasons as a head coach, SEC experience from his time at Missouri and a decade coaching at Oklahoma that included four seasons as the co-offensive coordinator. Along the way, he’s developed a reputation for high-scoring offenses and quarterback development, two things largely missing the past two decades at Tennessee.
Heupel recruited future first-round pick Jordan Love to Utah State, which was Love’s only scholarship offer. He’s also played a key role in the development of Missouri’s Drew Lock, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel and coached Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford during his Heisman Trophy season.
Heupel’s identity at UCF is a tempo-based spread offense that scores in bunches. UCF finished in the top six nationally in scoring offense in his first two seasons at UCF, as it averaged 43.2 points per game in a 2018 season that’s remembered for an undefeated regular season and a bid in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF finished No. 5 in scoring offense in 2019, averaging 43.4 points per game on the way to a 10-3 season.
Heupel’s buyout is nearly $3.45 million, which is 50% of his remaining guaranteed contract. Considering that Tennessee paid an estimated $2.5 million buyout for White, that means that UCF will have nearly $6 million via these transactions to help with its AD and coach searches.
Heupel was an All-American quarterback at Oklahoma who led the Sooners to a national title and finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting. He finished behind the current Tennessee quarterback coach, Chris Weinke, and ahead of former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees.
Heupel is the son of a South Dakota high school coach and began his college career at Weber State before detouring to junior college and then Oklahoma, where he played for head coach Bob Stoops.
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