University of Tennessee athletic director Danny White, on the job less than a week, has hired football coach Josh Heupel away from the University of Central Florida, where White hired Heupel three years ago when he served as the Knights' AD.
"We looked at a number of potential candidates," White said in a statement, as reported by ESPN. "Josh Heupel, who I had the privilege of working with for three years, is everything we were looking for: winning with integrity, a history of championships and the architect of explosive offenses. He is a players' coach and the kind of person the student-athletes go the extra mile for. I saw that first-hand, and you can see it in his coaching record."
Heupel went 28-8 in his three seasons with the Knights, including a 12-1 record in his first season in 2018. They finished 6-4 this past season. 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 his seasons in Orlando.
Heupel would owe UCF a $3.4 million buyout, per the terms of his contract.
Meanwhile, NBC affiliate WBIR in Knoxville reported Tuesday that UT had hired the Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search firm to assist in the head football coach search at a set fee of $120,000. A five-page agreement was signed Jan. 21, the same day UT said it was hiring White for the AD position.
It's unclear how much influence the search firm had over White's decision to hire the familiar Heupel. "The search firm will obtain an understanding of accomplishments, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and potential for success for each candidate through resume review, telephone screenings, job specific questionnaires, and, in some instances, personal interviews," according to language in the Parker agreement with UT.
According to WBIR, White pledged to conduct a thorough, thoughtful search that would go deeper than candidate lists circulated among fans on social media. The Parker agreement even referenced the possibility of a protracted search, stating, "In the event the search parameters are modified which requires additional work by us, or if the Client requests us to recommence or expand the search beyond the original recommendations, we are entitled to an additional fee which will be negotiated prior to the commencement of any additional work."