As the media members and family members started to make their way into the press conference on Wednesday afternoon, it felt like we’ve done this before recently. It was a strange feeling, not because of how it was put together, but because it felt like yesterday that Tennessee was announcing a new head coach. This has been one of the wildest thirty days I’ve been a part of covering college football, so today was a walk in the park.
It was ten days ago that the press conference was held, informing the Tennessee fanbase that their football coach had allegedly cheated and was being fired. It was almost seven days ago that the university announced it had hired a new Athletic Director, in Danny White. So, the athletic department and football program has gone under massive construction in just ten days, leading to the announcement of Josh Heupel as the new head coach for the Tennessee football program. Yep, it’s been a wild 10 days, but an even wilder thirty.
After what Danny White called an exhaustive search to find their new head coach, he ended up hiring a familiar face in Heupel, which White said he didn’t want to do in the first place. It’s most likely not a perfect scenario to leave a school, then take the football coach with you, but that’s not how White saw this playing out.
“We had an exhaustive, exhaustive nationwide search. I know that sounds crazy because I’m hiring the guy that I’ve worked with for the last three years. If anything, I was trying not to hire the head coach from UCF, and I say that with respect to Tennessee, but I love UCF, and I hate the transition that this is causing for the student-athletes down there. That’s the hard part of college athletics, but after going through extensive candidates, we left no stone unturned.”
Multiple names were floated out during this quick search, but White felt his best candidate for this position was the person he’s relied on for the past number of years.
“After vetting every single option, we have obviously landed with a familiar face in Josh Heupel. He was our No. 1 option. This job was offered to one person. I know there’s a lot of rhetoric out there to the contrary, which is not true. We made one job offer, we got our No. 1 candidate, and I couldn’t be more proud to have Josh as our new head football coach. Josh is in it for the right reasons.”
It’s not hard to like how Heupel presented himself to the Tennessee fanbase today because it felt sincere. I am sure the new head coach knows what some have said, but it didn’t seem to distract him from his message today, especially taking over a program that was left in pretty rough shape by the former head coach. As he discussed having the same type of vision as other leaders on campus, you could tell it wasn’t just coach speak, but it’s how they had UCF pushing in the same direction, something Tennessee desperately needs right now.
“We talked about the importance of having a shared common vision, being able to work at our purpose to accomplish those things every single day and everybody pulling the rope in the same direction. When you have that in leadership, that’s going to transcend through your entire campus and hopefully through our entire state here in Tennessee. When you do those things, great things are capable of happening, and obviously, I’m here because we have the opportunity to go chase championships on the football field.”
Now, to go chase championships like he mentioned a few times today, Heupel will have to think quick when it comes to his staff and trying to catch up with other schools in regards to recruiting.
“We’ll consider staff members from Central Florida. We’ll do that. Also, current members on this staff will have a conversation with them here, with the members here at Tennessee. It’s important that we put together a staff at the right time and that we get the right people, more than it is simply about the urgency of putting that staff together.”
This will not be an easy fix for Heupel; it’s going to take time, especially with NCAA penalties coming their way sometime in the future. The impact these alleged violations will have on the Tennessee program isn’t known yet, but they don’t sound good, as Chancellor Plowman pointed out last week. This is a huge undertaking by Heupel, but he knows what he signed up for.
“I had very frank conversation with every person of leadership about what had transpired, what their knowledge is, what they believe is going to transpire as far as any penalty. The reason that I’m standing here today is because I believe in a very, very, very bright future for Tennessee football. I believe that there’s a minor speed bump that we’re going through, but the kids that are in our program right now and the kids that are being recruited are all going to have an opportunity to go play and chase championships.”
He’s got his work cut out for him when it comes to the current roster as well, as multiple starters have left the team over the past few weeks. But from the standpoint of the new head coach, he feels they can have success early on in his tenure with the players already here. It doesn’t hurt that the Vols have a few QB’s on the roster that seems to fit his type of offense.
“We had a conversation about what are we looking for and how are we trying to build this. It’s a long-term vision. I believe that we can have immediate success as well. We have really good players inside of that locker room. I’ve watched a little bit of tape and have seen some of them in recruiting. There are good players in there. It’s our job as a coaching staff to get them ready to play their absolute best and compete every Saturday. But at the same time, there’s a long-term vision of what we’re trying to build here for sustainable success and a clear vision of how we’re trying to do that.”
We will have plenty of time to break down every position coach that he hires over the next week or two, but today was about getting some stability back inside the football program. The new head coach knows what type of job he has taken, and he definitely knows about the tradition at Tennessee, as he pointed out in his remarks.
“You walk outside (this room) into that stadium … I’ve coached here, and that’s an electric stadium. There’s not a better atmosphere in college football. I cannot wait to walk out to that, post-COVID next fall, and hear Rocky Top being played as we’re running out. That, I just got goosebumps thinking about it. All those things are still here. Trust me, our leadership, which I’m going to bring in, and give us a chance for our family to become connected. Let’s have fun together. Work hard, but let’s have fun together and compete.”
The press conference that was held today inside Neyland Stadium isn’t going to sway one’s opinion on the direction of the football program, one way or the other. This relationship will take time to rekindle because it’s been fractured for a long time; maybe it doesn’t get fixed for years. But, I’d say the top leaders of the university are trying their best to put it back together, one piece at a time.
They know this will take time and most likely cause more pain before happiness. But Tennessee hired Danny White to build back that trust with fans, and in return, he hired who he thought could help him in this quest to achieve his goals. You’ve come this far; there’s no reason to back out now; you might as well see if they finally got something right on the hill.
All Images Courtesy Of Tennessee Athletic Communications