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Where Fulmer Should Look If Vols Have Another Coaching Search

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After the Vols loss Saturday night to Arkansas many fans are out on Coach Pruitt. Which leaves us with only one question, “Who we gonna get?”

Jeremy Pruitt’s record at Tennessee has fallen to 15-16 after the Vols’ loss to the Razorbacks. The 2020 Vols are now staring down the barrel of a 3-7 campaign (at best).

In saying this, I and many other Vol fans believe it’s time to dump the gump from Alabama and move on to head coach No. 27 at the University of Tennessee.

Vols Head Coach Hot Board

No. 1 Hugh Freeze

There’s no secret that the “Right Reverend” has a troubled past from his time at Ole Miss, but he has had time to grow during his 4-year hiatus from Power-5 football.

Freeze is a changed man with a clear conscience, and frankly, he’s going to be the next SEC head coach that is hired.

In my opinion, it might as well be us rather than South Carolina or Auburn. The current Liberty HC went 39-25 in five seasons at the helm in Mississippi. This included two wins against Alabama and making a bowl game in 2012 after Houston Nutt led the Rebels to a 2-10 campaign in the year previous.

Hugh Freeze also coached at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis, TN, from 1992-2004.

It is worth noting that Freeze and Ole Miss only met the Vols and Butch Jones once. The Rebels beat the Vols 34-3.

No. 2 Gus Malzahn

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The Gus Bus comes in at No. 2 on my hot board because I believe that the only way he is available is if Auburn brings in the “Right Reverend” Hugh Freeze to replace him.

Auburn seems to be in a constant love/hate relationship with Malzahn because he can’t get them over the proverbial hump.

In Tennessee’s camp, we need someone to get us to the hump before we start worrying about getting over it.

Gus currently has a record of 66-33 at Auburn, including a 37-25 conference record. Malzahn has made the SEC Championship game twice and the National Championship game once.

The Auburn head man has beaten Alabama three times in his tenure with the Tigers. The Vols have three wins vs. Alabama since 2003.

Lastly, Malzahn is 1-1 against Tennessee. The win coming in 2013 as the Tigers lit up Neyland Stadium and the Vols in a 55-23 beatdown. The loss came in 2018 as Pruitt & Co. embarrassed Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium behind Jarrett Guarantano’s game of his life.

No. 3 Luke Fickell

Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell takes the field with his players before the first half of an NCAA college football game against Connecticut, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

I know this is another Cincinnati head coach, but Fickell has turned the Bearcats into a juggernaut at the Group of 5 level.

In three years at the helm, Fickell has a record of 32-13, including back-to-back 11-win seasons. More impressively, Cincinnati went 4-8 in Fickell’s first year.

At the present moment, the Bearcats are No.7 in the country with an explosive offense and a staunch defensive unit. Fickell & Co. are well on their way to back-to-back American Athletic Conference Championships as their record stands at 6-0 with only one major threat to their undefeated season remaining as a date with UCF looms in two weeks.

Previous to his tenure at Cincinnati, Fickell coached at Ohio State from 2002-2016 under Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. Could Fickell be the coach to bring the Vols back to the glory days?

No. 4 Jamey Chadwell

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The coach with the most “Tennessee ties” on this list is Coastal Carolina Head Coach Jamey Chadwell.

Chadwell is a graduate of Anderson County High School, where he played quarterback for the Mavericks.

Upon graduation, Chadwell signed with East Tennessee State University to play quarterback for the Buccaneers.

In his time in Johnson City, the former Anderson County Maverick was a 4-year letterman (1996-1999) and a two-time team captain at quarterback.

Jamey Chadwell left Tennessee in 2004 and has not looked back. He has run the gauntlet through many mid-major stops over the past 16 years, but he has struck gold with the Chanticleers.

Coastal Carolina joined the FBS in 2018 and has gradually improved each year. Chadwell was the associate head coach during the 2018 campaign (3-9) but took over full-time as the head coach (5-7).

However, the 2020 season has been nothing short of extraordinary; the Chanticleers are 7-0 and ranked No. 15 in the country.

If you haven’t taken the time to watch Coastal Carolina, I strongly urge you to do so. Chadwell’s offense is a shotgun variation of the triple option with a plethora of jet sweeps. The Chanticleers are averaging 37.9 pts/gm.

Lastly, if we were to pull the trigger on Chadwell, there’s a good chance his redshirt freshman QB Grayson McCall, who is a beast, could follow him with the implementation of the one-time transfer rule by the NCAA.

No. 5 Billy Napier

Yet another Sun Belt coach with Tennessee ties comes in at No. 5 as Lousiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette) head man Billy Napier appears on the hot board.

Napier was born in Cookeville, TN, before moving to Chatsworth, GA, where he was an All-State QB in high school before accepting a scholarship to play at Furman University.

Since his playing days, Napier has coached at Clemson and Alabama before getting the head job at Louisiana.

In his first two years at Louisiana, the Ragin’ Cajuns have lost in the Sun Belt title game against Appalachian St.

In 2020, Napier & Co. are 6-1 and ranked No. 25 in the country. Louisiana also boasts a win over No. 17 Iowa St. this season.

No. 6 Neal Brown

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Neal Brown was one of the hottest names in the country following the 2018 football season.

West Virginia pulled the trigger on the former Troy Head Coach in January of 2019.

During his time at Troy, Brown led the Trojans to great success. In 2017, Troy won the Sun Belt after a 4-8 record just two years prior in 2015 (Brown’s first year).

In 2018, the Trojans finished 2nd in the Sun Belt behind Appalachian St.

After replacing Dana Holgerson at WVU, Brown had a 5-7 record in year one.

However, Brown has the Mountaineers on the move in 2020. West Virginia is currently 4-3 but has a win over No. 16 Kansas St. WVU’s three losses this year have all been very close as well (@No. 15 OK St., @Texas Tech, and @No. 22 Texas).

No. 7 Chris Klieman

Here lies the winningest coach on the hot board. Klieman’s head coaching record sits at 84-21.

Chris Klieman began his coaching career in the early 1990s at Northern Iowa. He remained at the FCS level until 2018.

Thus far, the highlight of his career is his stop at North Dakota St. From 2011-2018, Klieman was the defensive coordinator turned head coach for the Bison.

As head coach for North Dakota St., Klieman went 69-6 capturing four National Titles in five years. The Bison’s lone “down year” was a 12-2 campaign with a loss in the FCS Playoffs Semifinals.

Since taking over at Kansas St., Klieman has been sensational. In 2019, the Wildcats went 8-5 with two Top-25 wins, including a win over No. 5 Oklahoma.

The start to 2020 got off on the wrong foot with a loss to Arkansas St. However, Klieman & Co. rebounded in a big way the VERY NEXT WEEK as they knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma ON THE ROAD!

Following those games, the Wildcats have had a solid season as they now have a 4-3 record after a heart-breaking loss to No. 14 Oklahoma State this past weekend.

One thing to point out here is that Tennessee’s last win versus a Top-5 opponent came on September 26, 2005, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against the No. 4 LSU Tigers.

I was four years old… and Chris Klieman and Kansas St. have had two Top-5 wins in the last two years.

No. 8 Joe Brady

This is the first non-head coach to grace the hot board, but I feel like his name may deserve to be even higher on this list.

It is unmistakable the difference Brady made to the 2019 LSU offense, which is likely one of the best offensive college football teams ever.

As you can tell from the image, the new Panthers’ offensive coordinator is a very young guy. In fact, he is 31 years old, meaning that if he were to get the head coaching job at Tennessee, he would be the second-youngest head coach in the modern era (trailing Bill Battle by 2 years).

Brady has been credited with some of the most explosive offenses in the game during his short coaching career.

As an offensive assistant in 2017 and 2018, Joe Brady led the New Orleans Saints to the 4th and 3rd best offenses in the NFL, respectively.

He followed up those performances by taking a larger role at LSU in 2019 and winning a National Championship following an undefeated season.

One major similarity between these two stops is that the passing game of both of these offenses has been virtually unstoppable.

Additionally, Brady seems to hold the keys to unlocking elusive, pass-catching running backs in Alvin Kamara and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Finally, Joe Brady seems to be a perfect fit in Carolina with Christian McCaffrey and their stable of wideouts. Still, I’m sure he would be intrigued at the prospects of Harrison Bailey, Kaidon Salter, Eric Gray, Jalin Hyatt, and Malachi Wideman.

No. 9 Matt Campbell

I feel like Matt Campbell is always on Tennessee’s hot board as someone we could interview to be UT’s next head coach.

In 2017, his name was kicked around Knoxville when the Butch Jones’s ship started to take on water, but nothing ever seemed to come of it.

The 2017 Iowa St. Cyclones finished with a record of 8-5, which is a good season for Iowa St., but I would argue that their 2020 season has been much more impressive.

Campbell & Co. had a rough start to the 2020 campaign as they were embarrassed by Lousiana at home, but the Cyclones have bounced back in a big way as they are tied for first place in the Big 12.

If the standings were to hold, Iowa St. would compete in their first-ever Big 12 Title Game. The Cyclones hadn’t won a conference title since 1912 when they were back-to-back Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association Champions.

Iowa St. has only finished in the AP Top-25 after the season twice. The first time was in 1976 when they finished 19th, and the most recent occurrence was 2000 when they finished 25th.

This speaks to the incredible job Matt Campbell is doing at Iowa St. Keep in mind, one of Tennessee’s most successful coaches had a stint with the Cyclones before making his way to Knoxville years later. (Johnny Majors)

No. 10 Arthur Smith

Smith is the second non-head coach to grace this hot board, and he is definitely the most NFL-centric coach on this list.

The Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator was promoted from tight ends coach before the 2019 season. The move came after Matt LaFleur departed to be the head coach in Green Bay.

In the 2019 season, Smith led the Titans to their best offensive output in 16 years, including impressive playoff wins.

The rise of Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Jonnu Smith, AJ Brown, and Corey Davis is credited to the creative play-calling of Arthur Smith.

Smith has only dipped his toe into the college waters twice in North Carolina (2006) and Ole Miss (2010), but I believe he would be a major success in reimagining this putrid Tennessee Vols offense.