There has been a good bit of coaching stability over the years in good ‘ol Rocky Top with Bob Neyland leading the team for 21 seasons between 1926 and 1952. Then Johnny Majors led the Tennessee Volunteers for 16 years before handing it off to Phil Fulmer for 16 more.
The Tennessee football program was in good hands for most of the 20th century, but things have been a bit more shaky since Fulmer’s last season in 2008. The Vols have been on a run of underwhelming head coaches with “brief” tenures in Knoxville.
In 2022, second-year head coach Josh Heupel restored the program to its previous glory, climbing all the way to No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings before finishing 11-2 with an Orange Bowl win. It was the first 10-win season for the Vols since 2007, but Heupel’s encore performance hasn’t been quite as stellar.
Heupel won’t make this list, but a lot of familiar names from recent years will. First, we’ll start with a coach who took over in 1963.
Tennessee was a stable program and a consistent winner for nearly the entire Bob Neyland era, but Tennessee entered into the dark ages after Neyland’s departure. Jim McDonald was the third coach to come in post-Neyland to try and restore the Volunteers to their former glory.
He was hired in 1963 and didn’t last to see 1964 as the head coach of the Volunteers. It’s hard to follow a legendary coach like Neyland, but McDonald was just following Bowden Wyatt, who was far from a living legend during his time in Knoxville.
McDonald was the second pick of the 1938 NFL draft after an All-American career as a running back at Ohio State. He served as an assistant to Wyatt who had posted a record of 25-22-3 in the last five years of his tenure. It was clear that the Vols needed a change of direction but instead went with an inside hire, elevating McDonald.
In his only year, McDonald went 5-5 and lost to Alabama 35-0. He is only at No. 5 on this list because he was essentially an interim, stop-gap coach.