Everybody was excited to welcome Danny White to Tennessee’s campus. We all pointed at his stellar history of making hires in less-than-ideal situations (Scott Frost and Josh Heupel most recently at UCF). What better person to throw at the Tennessee football coaching hire than someone like White?
But instead of continuing his streak of new, exciting hires, he’s decided to just hire someone he already hired once. It’s boring, it’s safe, and it’s exactly what this program and fan base did not want or need.
First off, Josh Heupel can’t recruit. His 247 history of top recruits attributed to him include Samaje Perine, Landry Jones, and a bunch of other people you’ve probably never heard of.
As head coach at UCF, his classes ranked 62nd, 60th, and 75th in the country in his first, second, and third years on campus.
Josh Heupel has never gained a commitment from a four-star recruit as a head coach.
Naturally, though, the assistants do most of the recruiting. So maybe if he can get a great staff around him, he will succeed?
Well, we just gave wiz-recruiter Jeremy Pruitt all the money in the world to surround himself with a great staff, and it wasn’t enough. In fact, it landed Tennessee in NCAA hot water. But yeah, maybe Heupel can do better when he’s got a staff around him.
Recruiting aside, he has only two years of SEC experience under his belt as offensive coordinator at Missouri in 2016 and 2017. They went 4-8 and 7-6 in those two seasons.
He has no experience as a head coach at the Power-5 conference level.
To add to that, he has never rebuilt a program like he will need to do at Tennessee. As a matter of fact, the further his last program got from the previous head coach, Scott Frost, the worst the program got. He went 12-1 his first season, 10-3 his second season, and 6-4 this year.
That doesn’t exactly bode well for Heupel when he is taking over a program that just went 3-7.
Heupel is a good offensive coach. Like really good. And that was definitely one of the proverbial “boxes” that Tennessee needed to check with this hire.
At Missouri, his offense improved from 48th to 14th in the country, and his offenses at UCF never finished worse than 8th in the country in points per game.
He also has a pretty solid record of working with quarterbacks. He worked with Sam Bradford and Landry Jones at Oklahoma and Drew Lock at Missouri. McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel were both pretty stellar at UCF under Heupel, as well.
The reality of this situation is nobody is really excited about this. At best, some people are saying “We’ll give him a chance, just to see what he can do.”
At worst, people are giving up on the program entirely. The anger has turned to apathy, and that’s a direct product of Tennessee doing absolutely everything possible to tank their program into the ground for the last ten years.
This was quite possibly the best coaching pool that Tennessee could have asked for when making this hire. Admittedly, there was probably some hesitance from candidates because of the shape of the program and the looming NCAA sanctions.
But to fall all the way to Heupel may have cratered this program if it wasn’t cratered already.
This hire wasn’t just about finding a guy who can coach football. It was about finding someone who could rebuild a program. Someone who could recruit in the most fertile, contested recruiting area in the country. Someone who could finally give this fan base the shot of adrenaline it so desperately needed.
Heupel does none of those things.
Needing to make a Splash, Tennessee picked a pebble with Josh Heupel.