Josh Heupel arrives in Knoxville as the latest man to take on a rebuilding project at Tennessee. The Volunteers have been down for over a decade now, and once again find themselves squarely in the middle of change.
This time does feel a little different, however. New athletics director Danny White didn’t go the Saban-assistant route, instead he went for offense, hiring a guy he knows extremely well. Heupel’s offensive numbers speak for themselves, but in order to truly prove himself in the SEC, he has to prove he can recruit at a high level.
That’s probably the biggest question Tennessee fans have at this point. Heupel is going to have to mend in-state relationships, while finding ways to win on the trail in places like Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
So what’s his pitch to recruits? For wide receivers coach Kodi Burns, that’s easy.
“To be honest, to sell Tennessee is not very hard at all,” Burns said this week. “Tennessee is one of the most storied traditions in all of college football with just the amount of national titles and SEC Championships. It wasn’t that long ago that Tennessee was on the top. The sell is really, ‘Why would you not want to be a part of getting Tennessee back to the standard of Tennessee football?’ You look at the campus, the facilities, they’re second-to-none.”
That’s probably been the pitch for the better part of the last decade, to be fair. Tennessee has experienced recruiting success under each head coach since Phillip Fulmer stepped down in 2008 — some more than others. Through all the disasters, Tennessee still sells itself to a certain degree.
However, as Burns points out, the Tennessee staff now has a new pitch they can roll out.
“Now, coaching the wide receivers here at Tennessee, it’s the style of offense,” Burns continued. “I think that once guys start to see what we’re doing in the spring game, in this fall coming up, how we’re going to throw the ball, what we do, the tempo with which we play with and how different we’re going to be offensively than everybody else in the SEC, I don’t think it’s going to be a hard sell once we start putting things on film that kids can see.”
Gone are the days of the I-formations and jumbo sets — enter the warp-speed spread attack. That’s something totally new and could very well be a refreshing talking point on the trail this spring and summer.
All eyes will be on the spring game later this month as Heupel shows his work a bit before moving into the ever-important recruiting months of the summer.
“Outside of the football aspect, Tennessee is a storied tradition,” Burns said. “If I’m one of these young guys out there, a chance to play at Tennessee means something. To play here on Rocky Top in front of 102,455, that sells itself. It’s a blessing to be here, and I hope those kids really understand that. That’s what I’m trying to get them to do in recruiting.”
Heupel has yet to land his first 2022 commitment, but he’s made progress with a handful of key in-state prospects. Once the spring is over, recruiting will take over the spotlight. An exciting scrimmage on April 24th would go a long way towards building some momentum for those key few months ahead of the fall.