Staff file photo / Lane Kiffin reacts during a home game in his lone season as Tennessee's football coach in 2009.

A week ago today, Jeremy Pruitt was still the head football coach and Phillip Fulmer still the athletic director for the University of Tennessee.

Then again, as the title character in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" once said: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Rarely has life in the Big Orange Nation moved faster or more dramatically than over the past week. From Pruitt being fired and Fulmer retiring Monday in the wake of an internal investigation that has reportedly uncovered numerous NCAA Level I and Level II recruiting violations under Pruitt's watch, to former University of Central Florida athletic director Danny White being announced Thursday as Fulmer's replacement, the Volunteers are starting over like never before.

And if the coach hired by White to guide his employer's once proud football program is anything half as impressive as White was in his introductory news conference Friday, the Vols just might come out of their biggest mess yet in less trouble than most believe.

After all, this is the same AD that Stadium sports network recently ranked fourth in the nation for the miracle he has done in making UCF a national power in college sports.

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Knoxville News Sentinel photo by Caitie McMekin via AP / The family of Danny White, the new athletic director at the University of Tennessee, watches as he speaks during an introductory news conference Friday in Knoxville. White is shown on the video monitor in the foreground.

And it wasn't just that 13-0 football season that current Nebraska coach Scott Frost orchestrated in 2017 when he was still with the Knights. Had it not been for a couple of wretched officiating calls inside the final minute against Duke, UCF would have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament with former Blue Devils playing great Johnny Dawkins coaching the Knights.

Said White during Friday's news conference: "Integrity is an enormous part of who I am, of the people that we hire. I want a head coach that I can trust unequivocally, and I know that person will hire a staff full of high-character people. That goes beyond just staying within rules and following regulations, whether they be university, conference or NCAA. It's bigger than that. It's having the right moral compass that's going to rub off on our student-athletes."

But who will that be?

The Saturday Down South website hinted Saturday that it might be Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, who would surely be interested in the job. According to Football Scoop's John Brice, who has been around the football program since Fulmer was coaching the Vols, a source told him that White said to UT brass on Wednesday that he "has an offensive coach(es) ready to go."

Now, those offensive coaches could be anyone. They could certainly come from a list that would include Buffalo's Lance Leipold — after all, White was once the AD at Buffalo — Coastal Carolina's Jamey Chadwell, Charlotte's Will Healy and Louisiana-Lafayette's Billy Napier. Healy is both a Chattanooga native and a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant, Chadwell also has ties to the Volunteer State — having grown up in Anderson County and played at East Tennessee State University — and Napier was a quarterback at nearby Murray County High School in Georgia.

Then there is the gang of three former big-time head coaches: Gus Malzahn from Auburn, Tom Herman from Texas and Bill O'Brien, who was recently hired as Alabama's offensive coordinator. O'Brien coached Penn State for two seasons, helping clean up the program after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and he was fired by the NFL's Houston Texans this past fall four games into his seventh season as their coach.

They all might work, but they're also retreads who would do little to excite the fan base.

But let's also assume none of the above get the job, because White will tell you that assuming anything with his searches is dangerous.

"The last few coaching searches I've done at UCF, there was that list of one-two-three-four-five," he said Friday. "Everybody is debating who it should be, and the people we hired weren't even on that list."

To that point, when someone asked if current UCF coach Josh Heupel might be considered, White never responded to that part of the question.

But two other names should be considered, one most likely a short-term solution, one a Hail Mary to a certain segment of the fan base.

Current interim coach Kevin Steele could hold things down until the end of the 2021 season, when the NCAA's penalties are likely to be known and the coronavirus pandemic is finally ebbing. It's not a great solution, but if the candidates you really covet wish to wait for whatever ruling the NCAA makes, it's better than hiring someone you need to fire four years later.

Which brings us to — drum roll, please: Lane Kiffin. Yes, it's controversial, and, yes, Kiffin didn't appear to know every word in the NCAA rulebook during his first stay atop Rocky Top. But Kiffin's last boss before Ole Miss AD Keith Carter was Florida Atlantic AD Brian White, who just happens to be Danny's younger brother.


It's all exciting and stressful and uncertain today. It might be that way for a couple of weeks, though it all might be decided by Monday, which would then surely be remembered as the most eventful eight days in the history of UT athletics.

Regardless, Big Orange Nation should hold tight to one particular sentence from UT chancellor Donde Plowman on Friday: "The search firm said when they called to see if (Danny) was interested, he said, 'I can win a national championship there.'"

If he's right, the hiring of White just may be the best move UT has made since it named Robert Neyland its head football coach for the first of two stints in 1926.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.