With Gus Malzahn reportedly taking over the UCF Knights, we have to wonder if the Tennessee football program missed out on hiring a better coach over Josh Heupel.
Former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is expected to become the next head coach at UCF. While he was going to spend 2021 out of football, the Group of 5 power out of The American may have been too good of a job to pass up. He replaces Josh Heupel, who left Orlando to be the next head coach of the Tennessee football program. Did Tennessee make a huge mistake once again?
For as much as everybody loved the hiring of Danny White as the new Tennessee athletic director, pundits were largely lukewarm on Heupel replacing Jeremy Pruitt as the next Vols head coach. Heupel followed White from UCF with the hopes that a strong previous working relationship can fix one of the worst situations in the Power 5. Tennessee had been scraping along at rock bottom.
Vols fans may hate it, but Gus Malzahn was not coming to Knoxville in 2021
Had White hired Malzahn to be the next Volunteers head coach, Tennessee would be well on its way to becoming Auburn of the SEC East. All things equal, Tennessee should be the No. 3 program in the SEC East annually behind the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs due to them having better in-state recruiting and fewer neighboring states to poach away some of their top talent.
In eight years at Auburn, Malzahn beat rivals Alabama and Georgia often enough to get an extension and nearly coach down on The Plains for a decade. However, he is not the dynamic coaching presence that can shift the paradigm in the SEC East upon his arrival. There would have been a limited ceiling with Malzahn going to Tennessee, especially now with sanctions coming.
But most importantly, Malzahn was not going to come to a program in as dire of straits as Tennessee. If the program were in a better shape, surely, he would entertain the opportunity to come to Knoxville. However, it will be a while before the Vols can get back to being the third-best program in the SEC East, as Kentucky and Missouri seem to have the right head coaches for now.
So did Tennessee miss the boat on hiring Malzahn? No, because there was no boat to hire Malzahn. Look. If he really wanted to become the next head coach of the Vols, Malzahn would have found a way to swim upstream in the frigid Tennessee River to do so. However, it was just not in the cards this offseason cycle. While UCF clearly wins here, Tennessee had already lost.
While Malzahn can have success at another Power 5 blue-blood, it will not happen at Tennessee.