Assembling a staff and strengthening in-state recruiting are just two of many assignments that Josh Heupel is taking on after being introduced Wednesday afternoon as the 27th football coach in Tennessee history.
Heupel spent the past three seasons at the University of Central Florida and could look to that UCF staff for answers, but the former Volunteers staff under terminated coach Jeremy Pruitt is running low on possibilities to retain. Pruitt dismissed defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh just four games into last season, while outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton and inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer were fired along with Pruitt due to the recent uncovering of NCAA Level I and Level II rules violations.
Derrick Ansley, the defensive coordinator this past season who oversaw the secondary, left Wednesday to join the staff of the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers.
"We'll consider staff members from Central Florida and also current members on this staff," Heupel said. "We'll have conversations with them here. It's important that we put together a staff at the right time and that we get the right people more than it is simply about the urgency of putting that staff together, but we do want to do it in a timely fashion."
Former Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was hired earlier this month as a defensive assistant and was given the role of interim coach after Pruitt's dismissal, a role that lasted nine days.
Tennessee also has been without an offensive line coach for more than a month due to Will Friend's decision to leave for South Carolina and then Auburn, and it will be interesting to follow what transpires between Heupel and Chris Weinke, the quarterbacks coach of the Vols this past season. Weinke quarterbacked Florida State and Heupel quarterbacked Oklahoma during the 2000 season, with Weinke winning the Heisman Trophy over Heupel by just 76 votes.
Heupel's Sooners defeated Weinke's Seminoles, however, in that season's national championship game.
Running backs coach Jay Graham, according to AL.com, is headed to Alabama to become the Crimson Tide's tight ends coach and special teams coordinator, and it's unknown where receivers coach Tee Martin will go from here. Former Vols defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth posted on social media Wednesday night that Tennessee displayed "systemic racism" for failing to interview Martin for the job that went to Heupel.
From a current player aspect, Heupel made it clear he will not swipe anyone off UCF's roster and that he will look to build the Vols starting with home-grown talent.
"The most important thing that we can do is lock down our borders," Heupel said. "We have to keep kids inside of this state here, and that's for multiple reasons. We have to do that, and recruiting in state is going to be a focus for me."
Tennessee's top in-state signee in the 2021 recruiting cycle, Brentwood High School receiver Walker Merrill, was rated by 247Sports.com as the Volunteer State's No. 9 prospect. The top in-state signees for the Vols in 2019 and 2020 — Memphis running back Eric Gray and Nashville safety Key Lawrence — recently entered the transfer portal and announced Oklahoma as their new locale. Gray revealed the Sooners as his choice Wednesday.
UCF's 41-8 record the past four seasons did not translate into success on the recruiting front, as the Orlando university has ranked 62nd, 60th, 75th and 61st the past four years in the 247Sports.com class rankings. The past three classes under Heupel, which includes the 19 who signed with the Knights last month, have not contained a single prospect ranked among the top 600 nationally.
When Tennessee's official Twitter account revealed Wednesday that Heupel and his family had touched down in Knoxville, the responses were mostly positive, but there were a few "Go back to UCF" and "What are we thinking?"
New Vols athletic director Danny White previously urged fans to text one another when they were upset and to not post their anger on social media, and he addressed the subject again Wednesday.
"Some of you are awesome, but some of you are failing," White said. "How can you turn passion into such negativity? How can you not be excited about the future of this place?"
Pruitt has agreed to join the defensive staff of the New York Giants, according to The Athletic. ... Georgia on Wednesday announced the hiring of secondary coach Jahmile Addae, who has spent the past two seasons as West Virginia's defensive backs coach. Addae replaces Charlton Warren, who was announced this week as Indiana's defensive coordinator. ... Nick Eason, the defensive line coach of the Cincinnati Bengals the past two seasons, was announced Wednesday as Auburn's defensive line coach. New Tigers head coach Bryan Harsin had originally named Tracy Rocker for the role, but Rocker left this week for the Philadelphia Eagles.