Tennessee’s new athletic director has brought the football coach from Central Florida to join him.
Danny White, who hired Josh Heupel at UCF, helped introduce him on Wednesday as the Vols’ new coach.
White, who’s been in charge for less than a week, had some difficulty in explaining the choice during an afternoon press conference.
He said that he tried hard not to hire someone who turned out to be his No. 1 choice. Heupel was less challenged in appreciating the familiarity with his new boss, who’s same as the old boss.
“There’s great comfort in coming here and knowing exactly what you’re going to get,” he said.
“There’s a clear vision of what he wants as a student-athlete experience and what he wants for the athletic department as a whole.”
Heupel’s resume presents a clear picture of what UT is getting in a coach.
The former quarterback at Oklahoma was the offensive coordinator at Missouri when White named him UCF’s coach. As the play caller, his Central Florida offenses ranked in the FBS top 10 in points per game in all of his three seasons: eighth last season, (42.2), fifth in 2019 (43.4) and sixth in 2018 (43.2). The Knights also ranked in the top five in the FBS in total offense during those seasons. UCF was the only program nationally to average at least 522.7 yards of total offense per game in each of the last three seasons.
In his first season at Missouri, the Tigers went from 124th nationally in total offense to 13th, averaging 502.2 yards per game. They ranked 14th in scoring 37.5. Prior to Missouri, Heupel was the offensive coordinator at Utah State. He served on Oklahoma’s staff for 10 years, rising to co-offensive coordinator.
“It’s a pretty fun brand of football,” White said.
Heupel has played a part in developing several noteworthy quarterbacks. At Oklahoma, he worked with Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. He coached Jordan Love at Utah State and Drew Lock at Missouri, who are on NFL rosters. McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel flourished under Heupel’s tutelage at UCF. Gabriel averaged 357 yards per game passing last season.
“If you’re going to chase championships, you better have a championship quarterback,” Heupel said.
While said outsiders would be “amazed” by how many candidates he spoke with in the search. Regardless, the hire makes sense for several reasons. The shared experience between AD and coach will help with the transition. Heupel’s background is more in step with the high-scoring times.
Furthermore, the key variables regarding the staff he assembles and the players he recruits would’ve been the same for any new coach.
UT’s internal investigation of alleged recruiting violations by the football program set in motion a whirlwind series of events. Pruitt was dismissed for cause last week along with nine other staffers. Athletic director Phillip Fulmer, who hired Pruitt, opted to retire, clearing the way for White’s hire by Chancellor Donde Plowman.
White described Tennessee’s situation as “a short-term issue.” Heupel spoke with White and the university’s leadership about the circumstances involved and said, “I believe in a very, very bright future for Tennessee football.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.