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Sources: Tennessee defensive coordinator search reaches ACC, NFL ties

New Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has been hard at work searching for the Volunteers' new defensive coordinator, speaking to multiple Power 5 candidates via phone and through Zoom.

One of those candidates, multiple sources tell FootballScoop, was Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown.

Sources tell FootballScoop Brown was potentially the focus of the search; however, sources told FootballScoop throughout the day Wednesday and into Thursday morning that Brown, who's risen to prominence as a Scott Satterfield protege, was highly likely to remain at Louisville.

An NFL assistant coach from a playoff team also has expressed interest in the position, sources confirmed to FootballScoop.

Multiple sources told FootballScoop that Southern Cal defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had at least been a person of interest in the Volunteers' defensive coordinator search, but, again, sources indicated on Wednesday that Orlando was widely expected to remain as the Trojans' defensive play-caller.

“(USC's) defense is night and day from last year (2019),” said a Pac-12 staffer.

Orlando was a prime candidate for the Utah State head coaching job that ultimately went to Blake Anderson.

There are multiple other assistant coaches involved in the Vols' defensive coordinator search, per sources, including candidates with Power 5 defensive coordinator and head coaching experience.

Through no fault of his own, Heupel's in a bit of conundrum as it comes to compiling his inaugural Tennessee staff.

He's inherited lame-duck interim head coach Kevin Steele, awarded a bizarre, multi-year contract in January by dismissed former UT athletics director Phillip Fulmer.

Steele received that pact just days before both Fulmer and scandal-ridden head coach Jeremy Pruitt were dispatched from Rocky Top.

Steele spent the previous five seasons as Auburn's defensive coordinator but his title at UT, per his guaranteed two-year contract, is unspecified.

Steele has been an interim candidate at a pair of SEC schools within the same month this year – serving in that capacity at first Auburn and then Tennessee in January – but has been a bit of an odd-man-out in Knoxville since Heupel's formal hiring.

Said an SEC East rival, “Steele is not a fit schematically based on what (the Vols) are going to do on offense. He is the type of guy to sit back and not beat himself schematically. However, I am completely against playing that way when your entire offensive game plan is based around creating possessions. You need a super-aggressive defensive coordinator to create negative plays and turnovers.”

It's worth noting in Heupel's introductory press conference on Rocky Top that the former Oklahoma national champion quarterback emphasized a desire for an aggressive, opportunistic defense.

Additionally, White adamantly emphasized that Heupel would be given full control on all hires and fires within the Vols' football staff.

So Heupel's search continues, but per sources, Tennessee is believed to be eyeing a hiring timeline "before the end of the weekend."

One factor delaying the search, though, is UCF's search for a new AD. That person will ultimately hire a new head coach. Whether any defensive coaches from Heupel's UCF staff ultimately are hired at Tennessee remains to be seen; but Heupel is hopeful UCF can hire a new head coach quickly and all from his previous staff wind up in a good spot.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.