Tennessee's 9 best coaching candidates to replace fired Jeremy Pruitt

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Tennessee is reportedly parting ways with Jeremy Pruitt after a three-year stint was doomed from the start.  

Pruitt was a hired after a disastrous coaching search in 2018. He finished with a 16-18 record the last three seasons. The football program is currently under investigation for alleged recruiting violations during Pruitt's tenure. Athletic director Phil Fulmer also retired as part of the overhaul.

Kevin Steele reportedly will serve as interim coach. If Steele isn't the answer, then who is? 

Tennessee will need a more-focused coaching search this time to find out. Here is a closer look at the possible candidates:  

MORE: Every college football coaching change in 2020-21

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Top Tennessee coach candidates 

Gus Malzahn  

Malzahn would be the ultimate safe pick. Auburn parted ways with Malzahn after eight seasons, a run that included a SEC championship in 2013 and SEC championship appearance in 2017. Malzahn won the Iron Bowl three times. Tennessee has not beat Alabama since 2006. Steele joined Tennessee's staff last week, too. Is this the not-so-awkward transition that keeps Malzahn in the SEC?  

Hugh Freeze  

Freeze might be the more-popular choice in Knoxville. Freeze is a bright offensive mind that led Liberty to a 10-1 record last season. He had success on the field at Ole Miss, a run that included a Sugar Bowl run in 2015. The Rebels, however, were hit with NCAA sanctions that resulted in Freeze's dismissal. Can Tennessee really hire Freeze while the program is under investigation?  

Joe Brady  

Why not? Brady revamped LSU's offense in one year, and it led to one of the best seasons of all time. Brady spent last season with the Carolina Panthers, and he's a sought-after coach at both levels. Brady, 31, has never been a huge coach. It's a risk, but it would be one worth taking.  

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Group of 5 candidates  

Billy Napier  

Would Tennessee take another chance on a former Saban assistant? Napier is 28-11 the last three seasons at Louisiana, and it's a matter of time before he takes on a Power 5 job. Napier was rumored to be a candidate for the Auburn job, but he turned that down. Is Tennessee a better fit?  

Bill Clark  

Clark is the other coach from a Group of 5 school that could turn up. He revived UAB into a Conference-USA championship program, and he's done that with a player-friendly culture that earned him SN Coach of the Year honors in 2018. Clark also was a candidate for the Auburn job. Would be more interested in Tennessee?  

Jamey Chadwell  

Chadwell is going to draw some interest knowing he led the Chanticleers to an 11-1 record this season, which earned him SN Coach of the Year honors. Coastal Carolina played an exciting blend of football on both sides, and Chadwell is moving up the coaching ranks. Is he that different than Napier or Clark?  

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Wild cards  

Lane Kiffin  

Kiffin already laughed at the idea.  

Kiffin had a one-year stint with Tennessee in 2009 before bolting for USC, and the idea of a second chance is laughable, right? Kiffin finished 5-5 in his first season with Ole Miss, where he renovated the offense and won a bowl game against Indiana. Kiffin would be a bold move, but there is no doubt the track record of success.  

Tom Herman  

Herman likely wouldn't excite the fanbase given the end of his tenure at Texas. Herman compiled a 32-18 record with the Longhorns, and he upgraded the recruiting with the program. Herman, however, lost too many close games, and the pressure in Knoxville isn't that much different than Austin when it comes to through-the-roof-expectations. Herman would feel more like a consolation prize compared to the other names on this list. 

Scott Satterfield  

Satterfield would have been a good hire the last time. He's 12-12 the last two seasons at Louisville, but the track record at Appalachian State before that suggests there will be more success on the way. Given the mess he inherited at Louisville, Satterfield set the bar too high early. He would be a good fit at Tennessee.  

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