Josh Heupel inherits a Tennessee football program that went 3-7 in 2020, is undergoing an NCAA investigation and suffered a mass exodus of players in the transfer portal this offseason. However, one writer says he still has a top 20 job.
A ranking of the 25 best coaching jobs by Brad Crawford of 247Sports had the Vols land at No. 19. They were one spot behind the North Carolina Tar Heels and one spot ahead of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, another program that has fallen on hard times.
UT was seventh among SEC schools behind the Auburn Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, LSU Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies. The South Carolina Gamecocks were another SEC team in the top 25 at No. 23. Here’s what Crawford wrote about Tennessee football.
"Tennessee used to be a top 10 job, but a myriad of issues have now made Knoxville a considerably difficult place to find success. With potential NCAA sanctions coming down the pipe stemming from the Jeremy Pruitt fallout, first-year coach Josh Heupel has his work cut out for him and he knows. The ‘Block T’ no longer holds the same value outside of the program on the recruiting trail either since the current high-end prospects never were able to witness the wonder years of Vols Football. It feels so long ago the program was once nationally-relevant and a big-game staple on Saturdays."
Obviously, he didn’t make a strong case for UT being a top 25 job at all. Crawford’s criteria include expectations, prestige, locations, facilities, money and recruiting potential. Performance on the field is irrelevant.
However, while the Vols do have a lot of those factors, expectations combined with what has happened since Phillip Fulmer left have to account for something. Rocky Top still has championship aspirations, but they have only had two seasons in which the finished in the top 25 the past 13 years. Eight were losing seasons, and seven involved no postseason berth.
You have to think that while the prestige is still there, things like recruiting potential is contributing to this. With not as much of a facilities and money advantage as they had in the 1990s, what could be the other explanation?
Either way, the Vols are taking all this baggage into a new, entertaining era with Heupel. It’s hard to know exactly how he’ll work out, but at least he’ll put on a show for all the fans. That could be the edge Tennessee football needs in recruiting as well.