The Tennessee Volunteers fired Jeremy Pruitt on Monday afternoon. Pruitt’s dismissal from the program comes after just three seasons spent as head coach for the program. He amassed a 16-19 record with a 10-16 mark in SEC play, finishing no higher than third place in the SEC East.
The Volunteer program has been dealing with plenty of turnover in the last 15 years or so. Ever since Phillip Fulmer retired, the Vols have had trouble finding something to stick. They have gone through four head coaches — Pruitt, Butch Jones, Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin — since 2008. None of the four have brought Tennessee up to prominence and just one, Jones, was able to finish with a record over .500 across multiple seasons (Kiffin, of course, went 7-6 but spent just one year as head coach).
So who will be next in line to try and rescue the program? Let’s take a look at some possibilities.
Kevin Steele was recently hired by the Vols to be the defensive coordinator. Assuming he’s still around after Pruitt’s dismissal, Steele could very well be a plausible candidate for the job. It looked like he was going to pull off getting the Auburn Tigers job, but Bryan Harsin was picked over him instead. Steele has four years of head coaching experience, but it didn’t produce great results at all. He was the head coach of Baylor from 1999-2002, and went 9-36 with a record of 1-31 against Big 12 opponents.
Hugh Freeze’s name has been hovering around the Volunteer program for the last few weeks. Freeze, of course, is no stranger to the SEC as he was the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels for a few years. He got into a big mess with the NCAA though after brazen recruiting tactics got him in hot water. He is the current head coach of Liberty, where they’ve gone 18-6 under him with a 10-1 record in 2020. Personally, I think there are some doubts about what he can do against SEC opponents. But it seems like Freeze might be a name to watch for in this coaching search regardless.
Here’s a new one: Adam Gase is rumored to be a name who could be involved in this search. Gase was recently fired by the New York Jets after some very uninspiring and woeful seasons as head coach. That came after a disappointing tenure with the Miami Dolphins, in which he followed up a 10-6 year in his first season with a 6-10 and 7-9 season. While Gase has had success as an offensive coordinator, and is clearly close with Peyton Manning, I feel this would be the most uninspiring choice. There’s no real evidence out there that he can coach well at the professional level, so I’m not sure if he’d do any good at the collegiate level, either.
Jamey Chadwell has been a boon with Coastal Carolina. He’s seen upward progression in every season he’s been the head coach with the Chanticleers. After a 3-9 year in his first season, the Chants went 5-7 a season ago. Then, they followed that up with an 11-1 campaign and a Sun Belt Conference Championship after going 8-0. Chadwell has been a hot name in the coaching circuit this year and while he went unclaimed at first, Tennessee could well come calling. This would be one of the more inspiring hires the program could make.
Tee Martin, like Kevin Steele, was already on staff with the Vols prior to Pruitt’s dismissal. There’s hardly any reason why he shouldn’t be a candidate for the head coaching position, either. Martin is obviously well-liked around Knoxville and plenty of times in years past, his name has come up for head coaching vacancies. He has seen plenty of success as a coordinator and positions coach since he started working with Power Five programs in 2010. A decade later, Martin has continued to be a pretty solid presence. It won’t surprise me if Martin is interviewed at minimum for the position.