By Mark Nagi

The University of Tennessee’s athletics department has finally figured it out. After a decade and a half in the wilderness, their teams are worthy of accolades.

Recently, Tennessee teams won SEC titles in women’s soccer, women’s swimming and diving and men’s basketball. The baseball team won the SEC’s regular season and tournament titles.

The football program, seemingly stuck in purgatory, won 11 games for the first time since 2001, with victories over Alabama, Florida, LSU, plus an Orange Bowl victory against Clemson.

For the first time, Tennessee won the USA Today Network SEC All-Sports Trophy. They also placed 13th in the LEARFIELD Directors’ Cup, their best finish in 15 years.

Last week, UT rewarded two of the guys that have played a huge role in Tennessee’s success, football coach Josh Heupel and athletics director Danny White.

The football program drives the engine of an athletics department. When the Vols have been bad, the entire AD suffers.

Since taking the UT job two years ago, the Vols have gone 18-8.  They’ve beaten seven nationally ranked teams and finished the 2022 season ranked 6th in the country.

Tennessee wanted to make sure that Heupel’s compensation is at a level which keeps most programs looking for a coach at bay. Heupel’s contract is now extended through January 2029, and pays him an annual salary of $9 million, plus incentives.

“Our staff takes great pride in representing the Power T, and it’s something we never take for granted., said Heupel. “We will continue to work tirelessly to build a championship program that all of Vol Nation and all VFLs can be proud of… Most importantly, our players are the people who deserve all of the credit for our resurgence on Rocky Top. Over the last two years, they believed in us and poured their energy into every single day with hard work, leadership, cohesiveness, and consistent habits. I am proud to be their coach.”

In 2022, the Vols had the top scoring offense at 46.1 points per game. They also had the number one team in total offense with 525.5 yards per game, plus passing efficiency (181.4) and total touchdowns (79) for the first time in program history.  Tennessee also set 15 program records during the 2022 campaign.

Heupel’s new deal was announced on January 24th. The next day, the guy that hired Heupel got his raise and contract extension. Danny White’s new deal starts at $2.2 million annually, with a six-year rolling term.

“Danny White’s strong and innovative leadership of our athletics department has created a championship culture and excellence across all sports in record time,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. “He’s built the best team of athletics administrators in the country, a team committed to our student-athletes’ well-being and to winning with integrity. He has set audacious goals for Athletics and is exceeding every milestone. I appreciate his leadership, his vision and his commitment to making the University of Tennessee the very best.”

White said, “The passion of Vol Nation gives us a unique opportunity to build the very best athletic department in America. We’re just getting started on Rocky Top. I can’t wait to see what’s next!”

Obviously, these are large financial numbers, but to play at this level, you can’t go cheap. Tennessee Athletics had its highest-ever single-year operating revenue of $154.5 million in Fiscal Year 2022. Those numbers are expected to increase.

Tennessee wasn’t selling out the UT-Martin game with Jeremy Pruitt as head coach and Phillip Fulmer as AD.

Keeping Heupel and White happy should keep the good times rolling for years to come.