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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.

“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.

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Georgia’s Bennett arrested for public intoxication

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Georgia's Bennett arrested for public intoxication

Former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to their second straight CFP National Championship earlier this month, was arrested on a misdemeanor public intoxication charge in Dallas on Sunday morning.

In a statement to ESPN, a Dallas Police Department spokesperson said officers responded to a report of a man banging on doors in the 1600 block of Tribeca Way at 7:10 a.m. ET on Sunday.

“The preliminary investigation found when officers arrived, they located the man, Stetson Bennett, 25, and determined he was intoxicated,” the police statement read. “Bennett was taken into custody, transported to the City Detention Center and charged with public intoxication.”

Bennett left the detention center Sunday morning, but he could not be reached for comment.

Bennett, who started his college career as a walk-on, was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season, after leading the Bulldogs to a 15-0 record and SEC championship. He passed for 4,127 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for another 10 scores.

Bennett was named the offensive MVP in both of Georgia’s victories in the CFP, a 42-41 comeback win against Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a 65-7 rout of TCU in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T.

Bennett, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is considered a potential selection in April’s NFL draft. He recently won the Manning Award, which is given to the top quarterback in the FBS by the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

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Sources: Ex-Buffs QB Shrout picks Arkansas St.

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Sources: Ex-Buffs QB Shrout picks Arkansas St.

Former Tennessee and Colorado quarterback J.T. Shrout is transferring to Arkansas State, sources told ESPN.

Shrout visited Arkansas State over the weekend and his commitment looms as a significant win for Butch Jones, who is entering his third season as Arkansas State’s head coach.

Shrout will graduate from Colorado this spring and plans to enroll at Arkansas State in May, according to sources. He has one year of eligibility remaining and potentially a second if he gets a medical redshirt after missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.

Shrout most recently played at Colorado in 2022, where he threw for 1,220 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions and delivered the game-winning touchdown pass against Cal in overtime in Colorado’s lone victory of the season. He started seven games at Colorado and had one start during his three seasons at Tennessee (2018-2020).

Shrout is one of three Buffaloes quarterbacks who have entered the NCAA transfer portal since the school hired Deion Sanders as head coach. Sanders has made it clear that his son, Shedeur, will be the starter next season. He introduced him at his opening news conference by saying, “This is your quarterback.”

According to sources, Shrout was attracted to the potential opportunity at Arkansas State, including playing in offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf’s West Coast-style offense. Shrout also had some teammates at Tennessee who played for Jones, and sources said the former teammates endorsed Jones both as a person and a coach.

Arkansas State (3-9) ranked No. 118 in total offense last season and No. 85 in scoring offense. The Red Wolves open the 2023 season at Oklahoma on Sept. 2.

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Sources: Harbaugh, Broncos meet but no deal

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Sources: Harbaugh, Broncos meet but no deal

Broncos owner Greg Penner and University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh met last week in Ann Arbor to discuss Denver’s head-coaching position without any deal materializing, league sources told ESPN.

Although Harbaugh two weeks ago announced he was staying at Michigan, Penner did his due diligence and still traveled to Ann Arbor to meet with the coach in person, like he’s done with seven other candidates during the Broncos’ head-coaching search.

The follow-up conversations were part of the process for both Denver — led by Penner with general manager George Paton — and Harbaugh. The face-to-face meeting came after Harbaugh’s initial video interview with Denver, after which he pulled his name out of contention and reaffirmed his commitment to Michigan.

“I love the relationships that I have at Michigan — coaches, staff, families, administration, president Santa Ono and especially the players and their families,” Harbaugh said in his statement Jan. 16. “My heart is at the University of Michigan. I once heard a wise man say, ‘Don’t try to out-happy, happy.’ Go Blue!”

The Broncos moved on as well, continuing their discussions with several other candidates. Denver has interviewed former Saints coach Sean Payton, former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, former Stanford coach David Shaw, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and their own defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero.

Harbaugh now has met with the Vikings and Broncos in back-to-back years. While one source wondered how many more chances Harbaugh would get, another league source said “The league is likely to be interested in Jim as long as he is successfully coaching. He’s proven at every level including the NFL. That’s a hard resume to match.”

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