KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With Tennessee coming off its best season in more than two decades, football coach Josh Heupel has been rewarded with a contract extension that will pay him $9 million per year.
The raise of $4 million will take Heupel to fifth among SEC head football coaches. The only four higher are Alabama’s Nick Saban, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and LSU’s Brian Kelly. Heupel’s initial contract paid him $4 million annually and he was bumped to $5 million last year.
According to details of Heupel’s new contract released by the university, his buyout would be 100% of what he was owed if he were terminated without cause before Dec. 15, 2025. The buyout would drop to 75% if he were fired between Dec. 15, 2025 and Dec. 14, 2027. The buyout would decrease to 50 percent on Dec. 15, 2027.
Heupel’s incentives package was also increased. He would earn $100,000 for making a bowl game and up to $1 million for winning the national championship. Other incentives include $50,000 for finishing in the Top 25, $100,000 for finishing in the top 10 and $150,000 for finishing in the top 5 as well as additional money for playing in the SEC championship game, winning coach of the year and his team reaching certain academic progress rates. Heupel will also receive increased private jet usage.
If Heupel were to leave Tennessee, he would owe the school $8 million before Dec. 15. His buyout drops to $6 million until Dec. 15, 2024, and decreases by $1 million in each subsequent year. Heupel would owe Tennessee $2 million if he leaves prior to Dec. 15, 2028.
“The results over Josh’s first two years speak for themselves,” Tennessee athletic director Danny White said in a statement. “He and his staff have energized both our football program and our fan base with an aggressive brand of football, a competitive culture that creates leaders and a relentless approach to raising the bar every single day. Despite a brief period of dormancy, Tennessee never surrendered its status as a college football powerhouse. We just needed an innovative leader like Josh Heupel to reignite the spark.
“It’s been fun to crash the party, but as Josh said after our Orange Bowl triumph [over Clemson], the best is yet to come.”
In two seasons at Tennessee, Heupel is 18-8. The Vols were 11-2 this past season and 7-6 in his first season. Before his arrival, Tennessee had suffered through losing seasons in three of the previous four years. Tennessee’s No. 6 finish in the final AP poll last season was its highest since 2001. That’s after the Vols started the season unranked.
Even more importantly, Tennessee snapped a 15-game losing streak against Alabama a year ago with a thrilling 52-49 victory over the Crimson Tide that set off a wild celebration at Neyland Stadium. The Vols also beat Florida 38-33 at home, only their second victory over the Gators in the past 18 meetings. For perspective, coming into last season, Tennessee was 4-38 against its chief three rivals — Alabama, Florida and Georgia — going back to Phillip Fulmer’s final season in 2008.
Heupel said in a statement: “Our staff takes great pride in representing the Power T, and it’s something we never take for granted. 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.”
The Vols broke 15 single-season records in 2022 and led the country in scoring offense (46.1 points), total offense (525.5 yards), passing efficiency (181.4) and total touchdowns (79) for the first time in school history. They defeated six nationally ranked teams, tying the 1998 national championship team for the most in program history.
Tennessee’s No. 1 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff rankings last season was its first in school history. The Vols hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” twice last season and sold out six straight games at home. Their signing class for the 2023 season is ranked 15th nationally by ESPN, and they also brought in several highly regarded transfers at key positions.