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Tennessee Hires UCF's Josh Heupel as Head Coach

UCF now also needs a new football head coach

Josh Heupel
Derek Warden

Life comes at you fast.

In less than a week, the UCF Knights went from getting ready for the February signing day to having to replace their athletic director and now their head football coach, as Josh Heupel will join Danny White with the Tennessee Volunteers. Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel was first with the news.

Marc Daniels said on 96.9 The Game that Randy Shannon is the interim head coach.

Update: UCF has confirmed that Shannon is the interim head coach. Scott Carr has been appointed interim AD.

It's been a tumultuous season for Heupel, who had to weather 10 players opting out before the season began, including multiple significant contributors. He then dismissed four players in November after an altercation with campus police. The 2020 team struggled to a 6-4 season with a few near misses and a rough showing at the Boca Raton Bowl. On top of that, the roster was senior-laden and many have opted not to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.

Heupel first joined UCF in late 2017 after Scott Frost accepted the head coaching job at Nebraska. He inherited a team that was coming off a 13-0 season and expectations were sky-high. The 2018 team under Heupel didn’t disappoint as they stormed to a 10-0 start before a devastating injury to star quarterback McKenzie Milton derailed things. After an amazing American Athletic Conference Championship Game victory, the 25-game winning streak ended with a loss to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. The following year, Heupel had to replace Milton and ultimately did with freshman Dillon Gabriel, who embraced UCF's air raid offense. Outside of some freshman struggles on the road, the Knights finished with a 10-win season, including a triumph in the Gasparilla Bowl before coming into 2020.

So what does this mean?

The timing is really bad for UCF. They were already looking for an athletic director, which they had planned to take their time with. Now, that time table has to move up. The anticipated process would be for UCF president Alex Cartwright and his team to hire an athletic director and then a head coach. At this point, most coaches are finalizing their February signing day classes and looking to spring football. It is very possible that the UCFast era is over. Both Frost and Heupel were White hires and a new athletic director may have a different vision for football. Only time will tell.

The silver lining is that, like the White hire, Tennessee is going to have to pay a hefty buyout to UCF. The price tag? Approximately $3.6 million. UCF’s budget this past year has struggled due to COVID, so while the buyout helps fill in some of the hole, UCF is going to have to be money-conscious on their next hire.

Update: The details of Heupel’s deal with Tennessee has started to come out. Heupel signed a six-year deal worth $4 million per season. Tennessee will be paying half of the Heupel’s buyout.

Details from the contract, obtained by Knox News, highlights a steep contract buyout for Heupel at Tennessee. If he is fired without cause prior to December 15, 2023, UT would owe him the full amount remaining on his contract. The buyout drops to 75% of his remaining salary if he fired between December 15, 2023, and December 15, 2025. It drops to 50 % for the remaining two years. The contract is also loaded with performance bonuses ranging from $100,000 for making a bowl game to $500,000 for winning the CFP championship game.

As for the buyout to be hired away from Tennessee, UT would be owed $8 million if he leaves for another job prior to December 15, 2022. The buyout drops by $2 million in each of the following two years, then by $1 million in the final two years before zeroing out on December 15, 2026.

This is a developing story and will be updated.