When Tennessee football hired Josh Heupel nearly 20 months ago, athletic director Danny White took a lot of heat. White had been hired a week before from the UCF Knights, and he brought the hire he made at UCF with him to Rocky Top.
Obviously, that was going to look bad. However, Heupel’s first season began winning fans over. After this year’s 4-0 start and Saturday’s win over the Florida Gators to get this team back into the top 10, White looks like a genius.
Right now, though, Tennessee football isn’t the only school make White look good. Hires he made at other programs are looking like great hires elsewhere too, further cementing his reputation as a genius at making hires.
Currently, the Kansas Jayhawks are 4-0 under Lance Leipold after beating the Duke Blue Devils last weekend. They have two Power Five wins and two road wins. If anybody inherited a bigger mess in Power Five play than Heupel, Leipold did when he was hired in 2021.
Like Heupel, Leipold was put on the map by White. The Buffalo Bulls hired Lipold from the Wisconsin–Whitewater Warhawks in 2015 when White was AD. Leipold had won six Division III national championships in eight years, but there were legitimate questions about the hire since it was Divisions III.
Well, White clearly saw something, and six years later, he was hired by Kansas to replace Les Miles. Immediately, he has begun the process of rebuilding a program successfully, and Kansas with this start may be the biggest story in sports.
When White was hired back in 2021, we wrote an article about all the great coaching hires he had made with UCF and Buffalo. He honestly seemed like a wizard, and funny enough, Heupel was near the bottom of that list.
Okay, so let’s address the elephant in the room. Scott Frost was his first hire with UCF, and Frost just flamed out with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. However, there is more to that than Frost just not being a good coach. He’s actually a great coach.
The truth is that Nebraska just isn’t built for a team that runs a system like what Frost runs. They need to focus more on offensive linemen and elite blockers, not winning with speed on the outside. White’s not the one who hired Frost to Nebraska, and he went undefeated at UCF.
If White had been hired as Nebraska’s AD in 2018, he seems like the type who would’ve known the fit wouldn’t work out. Lucky for him, Heupel had proof of success in the SEC with the Missouri Tigers, so making him Tennessee football’s new head coach was a lot more obvious.
Of course, this is all still early, and Heupel could easily flame out within a year. However, all signs point to the Vols headed on an upward trajectory, and White making this hire, his signature hire a week after taking over, is the reason for that.
Not only is Tennessee football undefeated and back in the top 10. White also understands the use of social media and promotions while restoring tradition. All of this has brought energy back. Combine that with the success of the hires, and he looks great.