New Tennessee athletic director Danny White didn't have to look far to land his head football coach. White named UCF's Josh Heupel as the Vols' next coach on Wednesday.
White previously hired Heupel when White was the UCF athletic director.
"We ran an exhaustive nationwide search," White said at a news conference introducing Heupel. "I know that sounds crazy because I'm hiring the guy I've worked with the last three years. If anything, I was trying not to hire the coach from UCF."
White said Heupel was his top candidate based on his integrity, history of winning titles and being an innovative football mind who has led explosive offenses.
White, announced Thursday as Tennessee's new AD, has been working fast to find a replacement for Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired for cause Jan. 18 after an investigation that uncovered what university chancellor Donde Plowman called "serious violations of NCAA rules." White cast a wide net through the Parker Executive Search firm and reached out to and/or interviewed several candidates, including Penn State's James Franklin, Cincinnati's Luke Fickell, SMU's Sonny Dykes, Minnesota's PJ Fleck and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, among others.
Sources told ESPN that, over the past few days, Elliott had serious discussions about the job but turned down Tennessee's overtures and elected to stay at Clemson.
The university announced that Heupel's annual salary would be $4 million and that he would receive a six-year contract running through Jan. 31, 2027. There is also a gesture of good faith in the deal. If Tennessee receives sanctions by the NCAA consisting of two or more years of a postseason ban and/or a reduction of allowable scholarships to eight or more as a result of the previous violations, Heupel's deal would automatically be extended by a year through Jan. 31, 2028.
Heupel, 42, has been UCF's head coach the past three seasons after taking over for Scott Frost, who guided UCF to an unbeaten 13-0 record in 2017. Heupel is 28-8 with the Knights, including a 12-1 record in his first season in 2018. They finished 6-4 this past season. He would owe UCF a $3.4 million buyout, per the terms of his contract.
"I believe in a very, very bright future for Tennessee football," he said. "I believe that there's a minor speed bump that we're going through, but the kids that are in our program right now and the kids that are being recruited are going to have a chance to play and chase championships."
UCF has ranked in the top eight nationally in scoring offense and has averaged at least 42.2 points per game in all three of Heupel's seasons in Orlando.
A Heisman Trophy runner-up as a quarterback on Oklahoma's national championship team in 2000, Heupel has SEC coaching experience. He was Missouri's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2016-17 before he landed the UCF head-coaching job. He was also the co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma for four seasons, but he was fired after the 2014 season, when the Sooners went 8-5.
Heupel will be the Vols' sixth different head coach going back to Phillip Fulmer, who was fired at the end of the 2008 season. Fulmer, who was named athletic director in December 2017, retired from that post on the same day Tennessee announced it was firing Pruitt for cause.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.