The echos of 2010 are loud at Tennessee, but the result doesn't have to be the same
Rewind to Jan. 12, 2010. Tennessee’s world got rocked when head coach Lane Kiffin announced that he was bolting after less than 14 months for his “dream job” at Southern California.
AD Mike Hamilton was meeting with a Vol Network partner that day in Denver. He immediately flew back but didn’t get back to Knoxville until the early morning hours. When he arrived, the protests from Tennessee students had subsided, but the reality sunk in that Tennessee needed a head coach and they needed one fast. National Signing Day was only 3 weeks away.
Over the next 3 days, Hamilton looked everywhere he could for a new coach, but the best option might have already been on campus.
Interim head coach Kippy Brown was keeping the ship afloat. Brown had recently been hired as a Kiffin assistant. It would be his 3rd time working on a Tennessee coaching staff.
Brown reportedly kept a tense meeting between Kiffin and Tennessee players from spiraling out of control. He was well respected by coaches and players alike.
I was working as a sports anchor/reporter at Knoxville’s ABC affiliate at the time. During a press conference the morning after Kiffin’s departure, I was there when Brown let the media know he wanted to be the leader of the program.
“I was told that I am (a candidate),” Brown said. “I think that I am a legitimate candidate for the job. The reason I say that is that I am very confident in my ability to coach, to recruit. I’ve proven that when I was here before. I’ve coached at Tennessee on SEC championship teams. I’ve gone into out of state areas and brought back All-American recruits. I feel that I am a legitimate candidate.”
Brown was the calming voice during a time of great uncertainty. He was a Tennessee guy with decades of coaching experience. The Vols certainly could have done worse.
Over the next 3 days, Hamilton searched for a new head coach but was turned down time and time again. Finally, he found someone that said yes. Louisiana Tech head coach Derek Dooley.
I’ve always wondered what would have happened had Tennessee given the job to Kippy Brown for the 2010 season. If he succeeded? Great. If he didn’t? At least you gave yourself a year to stabilize your program and you didn’t make a rushed, panic hire.
History proved that Tennessee made a panic hire in Derek Dooley.
Fast forward 11 years and once again Tennessee found itself at a moment of great uncertainty. They needed a new coach. Once again they had a former Tennessee assistant serving as the interim head coach. Once again, they made a quick hire (although this one took a few extra days).
The parallels between today and 2010 are striking. Would Tennessee have been better served learning from those mistakes and given the job to Kevin Steele for 2021? It isn’t like the Vols are going to compete for anything of note this season.
But the hiring of Josh Heupel makes it clear that this is AD Danny White’s department to run. He brought in his guy and it very well could work out. Heupel checks a lot of the boxes. Proven track record of winning. Developer of quarterbacks. Exciting, high scoring offense. And Heupel is infinitely more qualified than Dooley was when he got the job.
Does this mean that Heupel will absolutely get Tennessee back to the upper echelon of the SEC? No. No, it does not.
But just because 2021 looks a lot like 2010, that doesn’t mean Tennessee is destination to head down that same path.