It’s the beginning of a new era on Rocky Top for Tennessee football: the Josh Heupel era. On Wednesday, the former UCF Knights head coach was officially introduced by Athletic Director Danny White as the 27th head coach in school history. You can see the full press conference by clicking on the video above.
White spoke about Heupel’s career thus far as a college coach before speaking about the hiring process itself. He addressed the search process, which began after he was introduced as the new AD last week, and what he was looking for. Here’s a bit of what he said.
“We left no stone unturned. We talked to head coaches, we talked to coordinators, we talked to long seasoned coaches, and we talked to young up and coming coaches.”
“Character and integrity were extremely important from the jump. I have zero questions about that with this guy. We want to build a program that we can all be proud of.”
Heupel compiled a 28-8 record as UCF’s head coach. Prior to that he’d been quarterback coach with multiple division one programs and has developed multiple Heisman trophy winners, first-round draft picks, and starting NFL quarterbacks.
The road ahead of him won’t be easy, but the Aberdeen, S.D. native isn’t shying away from the bright lights of the SEC. Here are some things fans can expect from Tennessee football’s newest head coach.
Aligned vision and connection with student-athletes.
Right from the start, Heupel noted the organization in the University of Tennessee’s athletic department as a selling point for him taking the job. Here are a few quotes from him that stood out on that front.
“We [Chancellor Donde Plowman] talked about the importance of having a shared common vision, being able to accomplish those things every single day, and everybody pulling the rope the same way.”
“When you have that in leadership that’s going to transcend throughout our entire campus and hopefully throughout our entire state. When you do those things, great things are capable of happening.”
In addition to touting the administration, Heupel also spoke about getting the most out of his players. He preached unity and camaraderie within the Tennessee football program when broaching that subject.
“You play this game, it’s a tough physical, demanding game, you play it because of connection. There has to be a sense of belonging, a sense of brotherhood that has to reside inside that locker room.”
“When you are connected you have a chance for love. When you have love you’re able to sacrifice for your teammates. This game is all about sacrifice.”
Obviously, these words are a step in the right direction. Last season, some players’ lack of passion in games was noticeable at times. Ensuring fans that players will want to play and win for each other is all they can really ask for right now.
Emphasis on recruiting
One thing many skeptics have taken aim at is Heupel’s unproven track record on the recruiting trail. Despite being the best team in the conference for two of those three seasons, the Knights finished first, seventh, and fourth in the three years Heupel was head coach. He spoke on the importance of recruiting and keeping kids in the state of Tennessee.
“One of the great things here is that you have a national name, a national logo that allows you to go coast-to-coast and attract the biggest, the best, and the brightest.”
“At the same time, the most important thing that we do is lock down our borders. We have to keep kids inside of this state.”
Heupel will have to prove himself on the in-state recruiting trail early in his tenure as Tennessee football’s head coach. According to the 247 Sports composite rankings, there are 12 uncommitted 4-5 star prospects in the state of Tennessee’s 2022 recruiting class.
“It absolutely will be a focus for us. That’s a challenge for myself, for our coaching staff, to make contact with those guys and make sure they understand the importance that they have inside of our program.”
On play-style, he’s bringing to Tennessee
This the big one. We know that he cares a lot about the kids he’s coaching and that he has the makings of a great leader, but how does he plan to win these games on the field? Tennessee football fans may love the sound of this:
“We’re going to play with tempo here, we’re going to be the aggressor, we’re going to play with our skill players out in space and give them an opportunity to push the football down the field.”
“At the same time, that aggressive mentality we have on the offensive side of the football is going to carry over to what we’re doing on the defensive side of the football. We’ll be multiple on our fronts, three-man, four-man fronts, we’re going to bring pressure, we want to create negative plays.”
For a coach known to develop quarterbacks and strike down opposing defenses, Heupel made clear his belief that exciting football will lead to success on Rocky Top. That’s a breath of fresh air for Vol fans.
“I think in the game of college football, offensively it’s about creating big plays, defensively it’s about creating negative plays and getting people off schedule. You put those two things together you have a really good chance to have a successful game plan and season.”
A national championship winning quarterback with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2000, Heupel went 28-8 in three years at UCF, going undefeated and winning the American Athletic Conference in the 2018 regular season. Before that, he spent two years as the Missouri Tigers’ offensive coordinator, and Mizzou averaged over 30 points a game both times.
Nobody can say Heupel won’t make Tennessee football exciting again. That’s something Vol fans have been waiting to see. Whether or not it actually translates to wins remains to be seen, but it will at least be a fun ride.