UPDATE: It’s official.
Late on Tuesday night, VolQuest reported that Tennessee was closing in on hiring UCF’s Josh Heupel. Early on Wednesday morning, that appears to have materialized. According to multiple reports, Tennessee will in fact hire Heupel as its next football coach.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) January 27, 2021
New athletics director Danny White was hired from Central Florida last week. White hired Heupel at UCF following the undefeated 2017 season which was manufactured by Scott Frost, who left for Nebraska. Frost turned the Knights around from a winless 2015 season.
Josh Heupel took over the program for the 2018 season, going 12-1 and keeping things going. However, the Knights fell to 10-3 in 2019 following an injury to star quarterback McKenzie Milton. UCF went 6-4 in 2020, with three regular season losses coming by eight points or less to Memphis, Cincinnati and Tulsa. BYU and Zach Wilson then blew them out in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Tennessee AD Danny White has called a football team meeting for 8 am, presumably to announce hiring of new head coach.
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) January 27, 2021
Heupel is a former Oklahoma quarterback and assistant coach. He took over the quarterbacks coaching position for the Sooners in 2006, and became the co-offensive coordinator in 2011. Heupel was fired from his alma mater following the 2014 season, which landed him at Utah State as the full time offensive coordinator for a season. He turned that into the OC job at Missouri, where he stayed for two seasons.
Heupel is 42 years old.
He’ll bring some offensive juice to Tennessee, which is certainly something that has been lacking since the 2016 season. Heupel has helped groom quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Drew Lock and McKenzie Milton.
Josh Heupel’s offenses have ranked 6th, 5th, and 2nd in the country in total offense the last three years at UCF. As OC at Missouri in 2017, they were 14th.
— Brian Rice (@briancrice) January 27, 2021
Heupel’s next biggest decision will be at defensive coordinator. UCF really struggled defensively this past season, and the Tennessee defense is currently looking thin with several players in the transfer portal. We’ll see if Kevin Steele is interested in staying on, or if Heupel will even have him.
One thing to watch — is it possible that Heuple can pull in Jeff Lebby as his offensive coordinator? Lebby was with Heupel in 2018 and 2019 at UCF before bolting for Lane Kiffin’s staff at Ole Miss. Regarded as one of the best up and coming offensive minds in the game, Lebby would certainly make this hire look a lot better on the surface.
As for the Heupel hire itself — it’s underwhelming. UCF fans have been camped out in our Twitter mentions celebrating his departure. It’s a letdown after Tennessee chased a name like James Franklin up until Tuesday, with what felt like a legitimate shot. I’ll say this though — we don’t know how far down the list White got in the search. Incoming sanctions and a gutted roster don’t exactly have this job looking attractive. But can Heupel build his way out of this hole? We have no evidence that suggests he can, so this is a total leap of faith by White.