Josh Heupel's buyout if he left Tennessee compared to Lane Kiffin in 2010 is stunning

Tennessee football fans are nervous about Josh Heupel’s potential candidacy for the Oklahoma job.

Much of that anxiety comes from going through it before.

Almost 12 years ago, Lane Kiffin bolted UT for Southern Cal. Now Lincoln Riley’s move from Oklahoma to USC has triggered speculation that Heupel could return to his alma mater.

Heupel was a Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback and led Oklahoma to the 2000 national championship.

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But there’s a big difference between the two scenarios — one decimal point, to be specific.

If Heupel left, he would owe UT a buyout of $8 million. When Kiffin left UT on Jan. 12, 2010, he paid UT only $800,000, ESPN reported.

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel during an SEC conference game between Tennessee and Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel during an SEC conference game between Tennessee and Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

That shows how much contractual terms have changed after more than a decade of a busy coaching carousel. Having been burned by Kiffin, UT knows that better than any program.

But $8 million is still a huge buyout. By comparison, Oklahoma gets $4.5 million from Riley's buyout, and Louisville got $4.375 million when Charlie Strong went to Texas in 2014.

If Heupel left, Oklahoma presumably would pay that $8 million buyout. If he is a candidate, that could give pause to the Sooners. After all, Heupel had a good debut season at UT with a 7-5 record. But he might not be proven enough for Oklahoma to pay such a big buyout.

Heupel would owe UT $8 million if he left before Dec. 15, 2022. It drops to $6 million until Dec. 15, 2023, $4 million until Dec. 2024, $3 million until Dec. 15, 2024, $2 million until Dec. 15, 2025, and nothing after that.

Heupel's contract runs through Jan. 31, 2027.

Reach Adam Sparks at adam.sparks@knoxnews.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Josh Heupel's buyout at Tennessee compared to Lane Kiffin in 2010 is stunning