Officially, today is the first full day of the Josh Heupel era at the University of Tennessee.
No media sessions. No glad-handing. No masked-up press conference masquerades. Not even any of the booster meet-and-greets, as well as the getting-to-know-you sessions with his fellow Vols and Lady Vols head coaches, stemming from Wednesday's debut.
Heupel's rather arduous task shifts almost instantaneously from the honeymoon phase to the smoothing things out on Rocky Top portion.
Most importantly, that means putting together a Volunteers' staff. Out with the old, in with the new coaches.
As previously written, Jay Graham is out – a wanted man at multiple locales, working on the finishing touches to a deal at defending national champion Alabama. Quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke also is transitioning into the next step of his career, despite a year remaining on his Vols' contract.
Derrick Ansley is headed back to the NFL, after breaking into big-time college football nine years ago at Tennessee and climbing to the Oakland Raiders, then back to run the Vols' defense and now off again to the Los Angeles Chargers with Brandon Staley – a guy Ansley helped bring to Rocky Top as a graduate assistant in 2012.
Heupel's an offensive whiz, a former consensus All-American quarterback at Oklahoma with among the game's most demanding, uptempo offensive systems. He's got his guys; Heupel's likely to almost entirely overhaul the Volunteers' coaching staff, top to bottom.
While Alex Golesh, a Moscow, Russia, native and Ohio State graduate, stands with an earnest chance to emerge as Heupel's successor at UCF, Golesh is a prime target to join the staff at Tennessee and could be arriving in Knoxville this weekend.
Ditto Joey Halzle, who like Heupel is an Oklahoma graduate with championship roots. In short order, Halzle has emerged as a keen quarterback mentor. He's expected to make the trek north on I-75 to rejoin Heupel immediately for the Vols' new staff.
Likewise, Glen Elarbee has been a fixture as an assistant alongside Heupel – especially the past five years. A former Broyles Award semifinalist who's time alongside Heupel extends from Missouri in 2016 through their most recent season together at UCF. However, Elarbee's been well-traveled and also has emerged with options at multiple programs. It's not an automatic move that Elarbee, who played at MTSU, has cemented a spot in Knoxville.
Multiple college coaches and industry sources on Wednesday and again Thursday morning told FootballScoop to expect Brandon Lawson to be a prominent piece of Heupel's initial Tennessee staff. A Knoxville native and former United States Marine Corps Crew Chief who served President George W. Bush on all Marine aircraft from 2007-09, Lawson previously has served as Heupel's de facto chief lieutenant for the previous three years in Orlando, Florida, and would be a key cog in Heupel's football cabinet – perhaps director of player personnel or director of football operations. Lawson's been targeted in recent weeks by multiple other Southeastern Conference schools and has two of the industry's top mentors in Scott Altizer and Bob Welton.
It is not expected that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will remain in place as Heupel moves forward.
Tennessee's just hired Kevin Steele, the recent Auburn interim head coach and renowned defensive coordinator, is expected to be back in the job market – but wealthier in the process. Already pocketing checks from Auburn, Steele is set to make some $900,000 for his work on Rocky Top after a two-year guaranteed contract is evaporating into scarcely two weeks.
One early potential candidate to monitor in connection to the Tennessee defensive coordinator post is Mississippi State's Zach Arnett. Though he signed a contract extension with State after the 2020 season, Arnett has drawn interest in this cycle from LSU, South Carolina and Texas, among others, for those programs' defensive coordinator position.
Tee Martin's contract on Rocky Top expires at month's end, and Martin's return to his alma mater – where he captained the 1998 national championship – has been anything but a smooth and triumphant reunion.
Willie Martinez has deep SEC ties, with previous stints at both Georgia and Tennessee, and he's been a mainstay for Heupel from Heupel's time atop the UCF program. A Martinez return to Knoxville could make a lot of sense, but it also largely rests on which direction Heupel turns to run his defense.
Multiple sources throughout Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday told FootballScoop that a Heupel-Jeff Lebby reunion was not going to happen. “Not going to happen; he's probably the top candidate for the UCF head job, but either way, I don't see any scenario where he leaves being offensive coordinator at Ole Miss to be offensive coordinator at Tennessee. He's going to be a head coach,” said a source who's recently worked directly with Lebby. Lebby and Heupel are close friends, but Lebby's on a definitive career track to be a head coach and likely sooner than later.