Tennessee is once again looking for leadership at the top of their football program. It seems like an annual tradition. No, Jeremy Pruitt isn’t leaving the Vols after just one season, not that it would be unprecedented.
However, the Vols now have to replace offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, who has reportedly accepted the head coaching position at Western Kentucky. So who will Pruitt select to replace Helton? Here are 10 popular names being mentioned, in alphabetical order, and the reason they would or wouldn’t make sense:
Anyone with the last name Briles and the Baylor scandal on their resume has to realize that potential hirings are going to include a massive vetting process. However, Briles has proven to be a great offensive coach. Perhaps he has learned his lesson, but that would be a heck of a gamble.
Enos is the quarterback coach at Alabama. In just his first season at Alabama, it’s obvious Enos has done a great job developing Heisman Trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa. Enos has also been a coordinator before — at Arkansas from 2015-2017. One would think Pruitt would be able to get the scoop on Enos with his connections at Bama even though the two didn’t coach together there.
Alabama reportedly tried to hire Freeze in the offseason but the SEC persuaded Bama head coach Nick Saban not to make the move. There’s plenty of baggage with Freeze, pictured above with Ole Miss. He has serious recruiting violations on his resume at Ole Miss and underwent a scandal involving escorts on recruiting trips. Still, there’s no question that Freeze can coach up an offense.
Friend’s chances of replacing Helton rely on a few factors. First, would Friend want to follow Helton to Western Kentucky and become the sole offensive coordinator for the Hilltoppers instead of the just the offensive line coach at UT? Second, would Helton even want Friend to follow him? Also, does Pruitt think Tennessee’s offensive problems this season will disappear with Helton gone or were they systematic? If it’s the latter, then there’s no reason to promote any coach in house.
Well, I know this is one incredible long shot but it’s worth mentioning. After a breakout season at Florida Atlantic in 2017, the Owls struggled to a 5-7 record this season. This would be a real possibility if former UT coach Phillip Fulmer, who Kiffin replaced, wasn’t Tennessee’s current athletic director. Pruitt has a relationship with Kiffin, but it’s hard to see Fulmer signing off on bringing Kiffin back. Kiffin also wouldn’t likely want to take a step back now that he’s a head coach anyway, but he also has to be realistic. How successful can he be in Boca Raton?
Kingsbury was once considered an offensive coaching guru. Now, he’s unemployed after being fired from Texas Tech. Would he consider being a coordinator once again? One would think so. However, he’ll probably have plenty of options.
Kitchens is the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. That situation seems tenuous after former head coach Hue Jackson was fired earlier this season. If Kitchens needs a job, UT would be a great fit since the former Alabama quarterback knows the SEC. However, if Kitchens can stay in the NFL, that might be his best choice. He’s been in the NFL for 13 seasons, which means his pension would have to be a factor.
Lindsey is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn. Despite the Tigers’ struggles this season, that seems like a better job than a lateral move to UT, including an annual date against Alabama. However, Lindsey could have more freedom to build his own offense if Gus Malzahn weren’t his head coach.
We’ve certainly been down this road before. However, one of UT’s most beloved sons might have motivation to leave Southern California after he was stripped of play-calling duties. Martin would also be a fantastic recruiter in the Southeast and in California. Still, would Pruitt want someone who was just demoted publicly?
Sanders just finished his first season at ETSU, which was his first season as a head coach. Would he want to take a step down and become a coordinator again? There’s reason to believe Sanders might want to come back to UT after leading ETSU to an impressive 8-4 record and an FCS playoff spot. Sanders played and coached at Tennessee for 15 years. That could tug at the heart strings. Sanders might also appreciate a Power 5 support staff. He certainly doesn’t have that with the Buccaneers.