When Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel introduced his offensive staff earlier this month, Joey Halzle took the opportunity to speak directly to quarterbacks. He wasn’t subtle either.
“We are going to let you rip it,” UT’s new quarterbacks coach said. “We’re going to let you rip it all over the field.”
The words could’ve been recorded in comic book-like fashion on the official transcript: Pow! Zap! Boom! Sounded as if QBs under his tutelage will be hurling lightning bolts at the opposition.
Hyperbole aside, Halzle and Heupel both are former quarterbacks who have worked together for 13 years.
In that time, they have established a track record for developing quarterbacks. Their resumes suggest they will be able to address a position in need of an upgrade at Tennessee.
Just last season, in their final season at Central Florida, sophomore Dillon Gabriel led the nation in passing offense (357 yards per game). He also was second in total offense (373.9) and fourth in the FBS in touchdown passes (32).
Before UCF, Heupel and Halzle were at Missouri, where quarterback Drew Lock led the SEC in passing yards with 3,399.
At Oklahoma, these coaches helped develop QBs with different skills sets. Trevor Knight, who was athletic, was named MVP of the 2014 Sugar Bowl after throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a win over then-No. 3 Alabama. Prior to Knight, Landry Jones, who was more of a pocket passer, threw for 16,646 yards and 123 yards during his career.
Heupel, who was Oklahoma’s co-offensive coordinator at that time, made a point of noting during his introduction that he’s worked with quarterbacks of all sizes and abilities.
“We’ve had guys that were pure pocket guys to guys that have been able to use their feet in the run game and in designed runs or reading pressures off the edge,” he said. “And we’ve had guys that have fallen somewhere in between. We’ve had 6’ 3” guys and guys that were 5’ 10’’ the last couple years at UCF.”
Heupel went on to say a quarterback’s success is dependent on his makeup and temperament as much as anything else. He punctuated his thoughts by saying, “If you’re going to chase championships, you better have a championship quarterback.”
There are many reasons for football’s decline at UT but suspect quarterback play ranks among them. Of the four previous head coaches, the only one who was here long enough to develop a track record for both QB recruiting and development was the one coach Tennessee fans seem to hate the most: Butch Jones.
He signed Joshua Dobbs away from Arizona State and he amassed 9,936 total yards, second only to legend Peyton Manning. Jones then recruited Michael Penix Jr. But when Jones was fired, Penix decommitted and went to Indiana, where he became a standout.
Former head coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff recruited Harrison Bailey, a four-star prospect who finished last season as the starter. The QB position was largely in disarray, though, throughout Pruitt’s tenure.
By comparison, Heupel and his staff are bound to be an improvement. But they better let it rip themselves in addressing the QB situation.
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.