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Last week, the University of Tennessee hired Danny White to be their new Athletic Director, replacing the retiring Philip Fulmer. White’s first task in Knoxville is to find a new head coach for the football program after Jeremy Pruitt was fired following internal and NCAA investigations into recruiting issues. Pruitt, two assistant coaches, and seven others were all dismissed as a result of the investigations.
White was hired to replace Fulmer swiftly, just three days after the latter’s retirement, and the Vols’ new AD intends to be just as quick in hiring a new coach to run the show. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the candidates that oddsmakers believe have the best shot at landing the highest-profile gig remaining in college football.
Billy Napier (+300)
Napier is the odds-on favorite at this juncture after his name appeared on many short-lists following the regular season. The head coach of Louisiana turned down opportunities with Auburn and South Carolina and may still be inclined to remain with the Ragin’ Cajuns rather than deal with the aftermath of Pruitt’s improprieties.
Napier, a Tennessee native, had Louisiana in the top-25 this year and may prefer to take his time deciding his next move, a luxury the Vols may not afford. He may be the favorite, but the buzz surrounding his desire to stay put may be too much to ignore.
Jamey Chadwell (+350)
Chadwell was at the forefront of perhaps the biggest Cinderella story of the 2020 season, leading Coastal Carolina to an undefeated regular season and a showdown with Liberty in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. Chadwell is another Tennessee native, though he signed an extension with the Chanticleers at the end of the season.
His previous buyout was $760K, pennies to a national power like Tennessee, but that number likely increased with the recent extension.
Bill Clark (+400)
The 52-year old has been the head coach at UAB since 2014, leading the Blazers to four straight bowl games, though their appearance in the 2020 Gasparilla Bowl against South Carolina was canceled due to COVID-19 issues.
Clark has a record of 51-26 as a head coach, which included one year at Jacksonville State. He’s led UAB to two conference championships and was named the Conference-USA Coach of the Year in 2017.
Napier and Chadwell aren’t the only Tennessee natives attracting the attention of oddsmakers, as Hugh Freeze is currently listed at +550. The Liberty head coach would have all the credentials the Volunteers would be looking for; however, Freeze was fired by Ole Miss for similar infractions that cost Pruitt his job.
Doug Marrone was initially on this list, but he recently took a job with Alabama to be their new offensive line coach. There had been a buzz around Gus Malzahn, but former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has since resurfaced in Knoxville and is currently serving as the interim head coach, so a reunion isn’t likely.
Luke Fickell, Lane Kiffin, Jim Caldwell, and Tom Herman have all been mentioned in the conversation but also appear to be longshots.
Steele shouldn’t be ruled out yet either, but he was hired to run the defense. His only head coaching stint ended with a 9-36 record in four seasons at Baylor.