- Via UTSports.com
One Year Later: Josh Heupel Transforming Tennessee Football
January 27, 2022
In a span of 365 days, Tennessee football has transformed its identity under the leadership of head coach Josh Heupel.
One year ago today on Jan. 27, 2021, Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletic Danny White – in his first week on the job – tabbed Heupel to be the Volunteers’ 27th head football coach.
Heupel, with a pedigree of successful teams as a player and a coach and the owner of a 28-8 mark in three seasons at UCF, inherited a program coming off a 3-7 year with dozens of student-athletes in the NCAA transfer portal.
After a media tour and introductory press conference upon arrival, he stepped into his first team meeting that lasted nearly two hours, intently listening to a group of student-athletes wanting connection, accountability and trust.
Since that time the Vols …
- improved their regular season win total by +4, earning a berth to the 2021 Music City Bowl while playing one of college football’s toughest schedules that featured both College Football Playoff finalists
- shattered eight team single-season records in 2021, including points (511), total offensive yards (6,174), touchdowns (67), point after touchdowns made (67), total first downs (316), rushing first downs (164), fewest interceptions thrown (3) and passing efficiency (167.10)
- improved a scoring offense by 99 spots, going from 108th in the country in 2020 to seventh in 2021
- secured third place in the SEC East with a 4-4 mark after finishing fifth a year prior and after being picked to finish fifth again in the preseason
- defeated six teams by at least 24 points and notched a road win at Kentucky, 45-42, who finished No. 15 in the final Coaches poll
- became the “fastest” offense in the FBS, putting up a nation-best 2.99 plays per minute … that figure compared to 1.61 plays per minute a year prior
- saw head coach Josh Heupel claim the FWAA Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach Award after winning more regular season games than any new Power Five head coach hired in 2021
- saw quarterback Hendon Hooker become Tennessee’s first Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist since 2006 after setting single-season school records for completion percentage (68.0) and passing efficiency (181.41) and finishing first in the SEC and third nationally in passing efficiency
- saw Matthew Butler become one of the most decorated academic football student-athletes in school history highlighted by becoming the seventh UT NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient
- developed a trio of wide receivers that finished in the SEC’s top 12 in touchdowns – Cedric Tillman (12, third); Velus Jones Jr. (7, 10th) and JaVonta Payton (6, 12th)
- produced multiple players with 60+ catches in a season for the first time in school history with Tillman hauling in 64 (eighth in school history, ninth in SEC in 2021) and Jones Jr. finishing with 62 (10th in school history, 10th in SEC in 2021)
- boasted a special teams that featured the SEC leader in punt return average in Jones Jr. (15.11 – second nationally) and a punt return defense that was fifth-best in the nation and tops in the SEC (2.00)
- developed a defense that averaged 7.8 tackles for loss per game, good for second in the SEC and seventh in the nation
- a year after COVID-19 protocols limited attendance, drew a combined 691,088 fans at Neyland Stadium, including a sellout crowd of 102,455 for a #CheckerNeyland game vs. No. 13 Ole Miss
- assembled a signing class that is currently ranked No. 11 by Rivals.com, No. 14 by On3.com and No. 15 by 247Sports.com
- announced plans for a $30 million upgrade and expansion of the Anderson Training Center, including an additional 36,000 square-feet and a renovation of nearly 100,000 square-feet of existing space
- began Neyland Stadium renovations that will include two new videoboards on the north and south ends, a lower-west premium club, enhanced chairback seating in multiple lower-west sections and a party deck social gathering space on the upper north end
- produced 21 UT graduates, including 10 in December 2021
The attention now shifts to Heupel’s second year in Knoxville. The Vols open the 2022 season on Sept. 3 against Ball State in Neyland Stadium.