Josh Heupel leaves UCF to become Tennessee head football coach; wants to get ‘Rocky Top’ rocking again!

Josh Heupel

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Josh Heupel, the former Oklahoma quarterback who led his team to the national title, and who as an assistant coach and head coach captured conference championships at Oklahoma and UCF, has been named Tennessee’s 27th head football coach, Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White announced in late January.

“We looked at a number of potential candidates,” White said. “Josh Heupel, who I had the privilege of working with for three years, is everything we were looking for: winning with integrity, a history of championships and the architect of explosive offenses. He is a players’ coach and the kind of person the student-athletes go the extra mile for. I saw that first-hand, and you can see it in his coaching record.” 

With a pedigree of fast-paced and exciting teams, Heupel was named the 2018 First Year Coach of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America, and he was a finalist for the Associated Press National Coach of the Year Award, the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award and the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award that same season. 

“I am thrilled to be coming to Tennessee,” Heupel said. “I understand that Volunteer fans are hungry for a return to the top that they so richly deserve, and it is my goal and commitment to bring a championship back to Rocky Top.”

An elite playcaller with a history of explosive offenses, Heupel was the architect of a unit that ranked in the FBS top 10 in points per game in each of his three seasons as UCF head coach—eighth in 2020 (42.2), fifth in 2019 (43.4) and sixth in 2018 (43.2). The Knights also ranked in the top five in the FBS in total offense per game in each of those three seasons—second in 2020 (568.1), second in 2019 (540.5) and fourth in 2018 (522.7).

“We brought Danny White in to hire a talented coach who can be here for a long time and build a championship program,” UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said. “Coach Heupel has compiled an impressive record, and I think Vols fans can look forward to a bright and exciting future. We are delighted to welcome him and his family to Tennessee.” 

Under Heupel’s watch, UCF was the only team in the country to rank among the top five in the country in total offense each of the last three years, and the Knights were the only program in the nation to average at least 522.7 yards of total offense in each of the last three seasons.

Heupel became head coach at UCF in 2018 and promptly became one of only three coaches in college football history to lead a team to an undefeated regular season in his first year with them. That season, his team posted a 12-1 overall record, earning the American Athletic Conference championship and a berth to the Fiesta Bowl. 

The following year, his team compiled a 10-3 mark, earning a fourth consecutive bowl invitation. Overall, he posted a 28-8 record at UCF and a stellar 20-5 mark in conference play.

Heupel is no stranger to putting up big offensive numbers in the Southeastern Conference. Prior to his successful run at UCF, he served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Missouri from 2016-17.

In 2015, prior to Heupel’s arrival, Missouri ranked 124th in the nation in total offense (280.9). In 2016, the Tigers led the SEC and ranked 13th nationally, averaging 500.5 yards per game. In 2017, Mizzou ranked eighth in the nation in total offense, averaging 502.2 yards per game. The Tigers were also 14th in the nation in scoring at 37.5 points per game.

Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock shined under Heupel’s tutelage. Lock led the SEC in passing as a sophomore, throwing for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns. He followed that with an even stronger junior season in 2017, passing for 3,964 yards and a then-SEC record 44 touchdown tosses.

Prior to his time in Columbia, Heupel served as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Utah State in 2015, and he was a member of Bob Stoops’ coaching staff at Oklahoma from 2006-14. During his time with the Sooners, he helped develop Heisman Trophy winners Sam Bradford and Jason White at Oklahoma. 

As a player, he was a national champion as Oklahoma’s quarterback in 2000. He was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2000 while leading the Sooners to a victory over Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl, sealing the national title for the OU. In 2001, Heupel was the Associated Press Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award winner, Archie Griffin Award winner and a consensus All-American.

During his two seasons as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma, Heupel posted a 20-5 record. He passed for 7,456 yards and 53 touchdowns. Overall, he still ranks among OU’s top three quarterbacks in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes, despite playing just two seasons.

An Aberdeen, South Dakota, native, Heupel earned his bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Oklahoma in 2001. He and his wife, Dawn, have two children—daughter Hannah and son Jace.