The University of Tennessee has its new athletics director in place.
That new leader, Danny White, in turn, already has set his sights on an “offensive-minded” coach to lead Tennessee football back from the doldrums.
Per sources with intimate knowledge of Tennessee leaders’ conversations with White in the process of hiring White away from Central Florida to run UT athletics, White already has coaching candidates queued up to discuss the Volunteers’ job.
“He told Tennessee on Wednesday night that he has an offensive coach(es) ready to go, and that apparently helped Tennessee get the deal done quickly,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, president Randy Boyd and potentially one key member of the school’s board of trustees, met with White in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday night.
It was during this meeting that White shared his vision for Volunteers and Lady Volunteers athletics. Most notably, White revealed his plan to move quickly to fill the head football coaching vacancy that officially opened on Monday when the disgraced Jeremy Pruitt was fired amidst a massive probe, from both internal and external investigators including the NCAA, into UT’s alleged recruiting misdeeds.
Plowman said in a Monday press conference that signaled the formal ends of the Pruitt and Phillip Fulmer eras as coach and athletics director, respectively, that Tennessee knew it had committed “multiple Level-I and Level-II” NCAA infractions.
After the failed tenure of Pruitt, considered a defensive mastermind but whose teams routinely were blown out during his three-year stint on Rocky Top with 16 double-digit losses, an offensive coach could be the key element for Tennessee football.
The reasoning is two-fold: An exciting, offensive mind whose team can score in bunches is the type of hire that the Vols are likely to need for a disenfranchised fan base unquestionably tortured through almost a decade-and-a-half of misery and coaches.
Lots of coaches; White’s first centerpiece hire will be the Vol football program’s 10th full-time or interim head coach since the start of the 2008 season.
The second element noteworthy in an offensive approach for the Vols is the stark offensive shift in all of football, especially at the collegiate level where even Nick Saban’s grown, if not comfortable, amenable to the high-scoring affairs. Disadvantaged teams — see Ole Miss’ work this past season with Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby engineering the Rebels’ high-octane offense — must be able to score quickly and with regularity.
As multiple college football sources on Thursday afternoon reminded FootballScoop: a name to potentially watch in the Vols’ fledgling head coach search is that of Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. Three years ago after Scott Frost led UCF to a 13-0 season and then left the Knights to return to Frost’s alma mater, Nebraska, new Tennessee A.D. White had interest in hiring Elliott at that time as Frost’s replacement.
White eventually tabbed then-Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel for the UCF job, but sources said that White developed a strong respect for Elliott — as a coach and person.
“Tony Elliott, there is not a better person in the world,” said a collegiate coach who’s battled against Elliott on the field and the recruiting trail. “He is top-shelf. He is just as good a person as there is around.
“He definitely has the resumè and has done the stuff you’re supposed to do to get a shot at a job like Tennessee.”
A former Tigers player, who coached alongside current Tennessee interim Kevin Steele at Clemson in 2011, Elliott has exploded this coaching cycle as an extremely viable candidate around multiple jobs; Auburn had strong interest in Elliott, going so far as to seek an interview, and Elliott also had elicited interest from the Miami Dolphins and the Seattle Seahawks for those organizations’ offensive coordinator positions, per multiple reports, earlier this month.
Elliott has been Clemson’s offensive coordinator in some capacity for the past six seasons; he was the Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator from 2015-19 but ran the show by himself this past season as Clemson again advanced to the College Football Playoffs.
Elliott missed that semifinal game against Ohio State due to COVID-19 protocols, but he was the architect of a Trevor Lawrence-led Tigers’ offense that finished third nationally in scoring, 43.5 points per game, and 10th in total offense with more than 502 ypg.
Elliott was selected by prior winners the 2017 FootballScoop Running Backs Coach of the Year; and also won the prestigious Broyles Award in 2017 as the nation’s top assistant coach in college football.
Look for this search to move fairly quickly.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.