New Tennessee Volunteer head coach, Josh Heupel, has been an integral part of some exciting offenses during his career.
The blossoming of his offensive prowess began at the dawn of the millennium when he led the Oklahoma Sooners to an undefeated season. His team won the 2000 national championship while Heupel finished runner-up in the Heisman campaign.
He reunited with Oklahoma in 2004 after a brief and unsuccessful stint in the NFL. He spent 10 of the following 11 years on staff with his alma mater. Going from graduate assistant to offensive coordinator, Heupel worked with the likes of Jason White, Sam Bradford, and Landry Jones.
Everyone knows the success the Sooners have had the past two decades. Some even remember Heupel helping them in his glory days. But it’s what Heupel has done for other schools since his firing in 2015 that leaves most Vol fans in doubt.
After inheriting Scott Frost’s stable in 2018, Heupel led Central Florida to an undefeated regular season. Since losing 40-32 to LSU in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, the Knights are 16-8. The former UCF coach regressed in each season following his head coaching debut, losing three games in his sophomore campaign and four the next. Heupel’s last game was a failed effort. The Knights lost 49-23 to a one-loss BYU team in the Boca Raton Bowl.
If there’s one thing to count on, though, it’s Heupel’s high-powered spread offense.
Volunteer fans need consistency. Rocky Top needs to be a compelling brand. It will be a long time before the Vols are obnoxiously winning big-time games. What those in Knoxville need right now is a quick pick-me-up after another tumultuous year.
If Josh Heupel has the same control of the Tennessee offense that he’s had for the past 15 years, then players and fans will receive a shot in the arm.
Here’s a look at Heupel’s impressive offensive resume. It’s a reason to give current players, recruits and fans something to look forward to.
In Good Company
The aforementioned names of White, Bradford, and Jones carry much weight when it comes to Heupel’s network.
While Josh Heupel probably texted – er – chatted with his buddy, White, more than coached him, it’s still an influential relationship to have. White was Heupel’s successor in Norman, OK. The younger gunslinger ended up besting his pal and winning the Heisman in 2003. Heupel worked on staff as a graduate assistant when White won the Maxwell Award in 2004.
Before Bradford’s devastating injury, the quarterback was on pace for unparalleled success in college football. As a sophomore, Bradford threw for 4,721 yards and 50 touchdowns en route to winning the 2008 Heisman. Under Heupel’s tutelage, Bradford threw for 8,403 yards while completing 68.7 percent of his passes.
Then there’s Jones, Bradford’s successor, who had a more sustainable college career. From 2009-2012, Jones threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns. It was during Landry’s progression that Heupel made the jump to offensive coordinator.
New Faces, New Places
After being let go at Oklahoma, it was time for a fresh start for Heupel. The North Dakota native used Utah State as an exhibit. Despite one season (2015) on the job, Heupel made an impression as offensive coordinator.
The well in Logan, UT is a far cry from the bountiful blessings in Norman. However, Heupel made the most of his offense, especially his quarterbacks.
When senior Chuckie Keeton went down with an injury, sophomore Kent Myers took charge. While the two talents don’t compare to Bradford or White, they were enough for Heupel to work with.
Both quarterbacks threw 199 times. Myers completed 17 more passes. The younger, less experienced player is the one that Heupel got the most results from. Regardless, both combined for 2,599 yards passing and 535 yards rushing.
It was unfamiliar territory and new names. There was a difference in the quality of talent, but Heupel adapted. Keeton and Myers put up more rushing yards in one season than all of the aforementioned quarterbacks combined for in their careers.
Heupel orchestrated an offense at Utah State that notched 50 or more points three times. In one of those cases, the Aggies beat Boise State 52-26. It was the program’s first win over a ranked opponent in 14 years. Utah State finished with a 6-7 record that included a 23-21 loss to Akron in the 2016 Idaho Potato Bowl.
The same theme continued for Josh Heupel when he left Logan for Columbia, MO. The coordinator had to update his contacts and obtain a new address. Only this time, he was back to working with a higher-class of athletes in the SEC.
Heupel found a dangerous match at Missouri with sophomore Drew Lock. After throwing 5.1 yards per attempt and posting a 2/1 interception rate in 2015, Lock thrived when he paired with Heupel.
Josh Heupel was able to take a stale Tigers offense and make it respectable in an instant. Missouri averaged 31.4 points in 2016, ranking 48th in college football.
Heupel, using Lock as a catalyst, further boosted the Missouri attack into one of the best in the nation the following year. They averaged 37.5 PPG (14th) and became the highest-scoring offense in the conference. The Tigers handed the Vols a 50-17 en route to a 7-6 record in 2017.
Heupel as a Head Coach
Despite taking more responsibilities as the principal of the UCF program, Heupel’s success with offense continued. Frost left behind a talented roster, with a dynamic quarterback. In terms of scoring, Heupel made the most of it.
The Knights averaged more than 42 points PPG in each of Heupel’s three seasons in Orlando. The offense finished inside the top-10 in scoring every year under his watch.
Just as he did in Logan, Heupel didn’t let an injury to a star quarterback slow down the attack.
Mackenzie Milton threw for 2663 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior in Heupel’s first year at the helm. The quarterback dislocated his knee during the last game of the regular season. The injury required emergency surgery, leading to extended time away from the field for Milton.
In came Dillon Gabriel in 2019. Heupel had even more success with this 6-0, 185-pound quarterback. Gabriel went on to throw for over 7,000 yards in two seasons. Under Heupel’s eye, the 3-star quarterback turned into a machine, averaging 9.5 yards per completion.
What The Vols Can Expect
Tennessee is getting an offensive mind that has rarely failed on that side of the ball since leading Oklahoma to a national championship as a player.
Even after leaving a program with the most talented players in the country, Heupel still found a way to have success. Injuries couldn’t even stop his offenses from reaping the rewards of his spread attack. Perhaps Heupel’s greatest feat is constructing a Utah State offense – without its record-breaking quarterback – that goes on to drill a Boise State defense giving up 20.2 PPG.
No matter where he’s been, Heupel has provided a spark to offenses, especially quarterbacks. His firing at Oklahoma is not an indictment on that attribute. His efforts got replaced with Lincoln Riley’s.
It remains to be seen if Heupel can handle the duties of being the face of an SEC program. Tailing an athletic director from Disney World to Dollywood has to be a good sign. Heupel’s relationship with Danny White still has room to grow.
The Tennessee coaching search of 2021 sounds like a mess in terms of methodology. And it’s more than reasonable to assume that the Vols are over-paying for a guy that’s only been a head coach at the G5 level.
The one thing that can’t be in question is Heupel’s ability to produce prolific offenses. He also seems to have a knack for adapting to his quarterback’s skill set. As long as Heupel can keep a grip on that side of the ball, the Vols will at least have a very exciting brand of football in the near future.