The search is over and Danny White has his first football coach at Tennessee. As it turns out, it’s the guy he hired three years ago at UCF. With so much Central Florida influence coming to Knoxville, we thought it would be a good idea to reach out to SBNation’s UCF site, Black and Gold Banneret.
Thanks to Jeff Sharon for his answers.
1. So Tennessee kinda just became UCF North. We’ll start with Danny White. We know he totally transformed the football program — what other things stand out from his time there? What can Tennessee fans expect?
Danny White didn’t just transform the football program — he transformed the entire athletic department. We joke that he’s Winston Wolf — he fixes problems. After George O’leary left a smoking pile of rubble in the wake of his disastrous six-month tenure as interim athletic director (and bear in mind he had basically personally chosen the previous two ADs), UCF needed a massive reset, and White provided it. Not only did he hire Scott Frost, but he turned over almost every sport’s coaching staff (except for the ones where the coaches were running solid programs), ramped up UCF’s fundraising with big local businesses, drastically improved fan experiences, and turned UCF’s content and marketing teams loose to be as creative as they wanted to be. The results were immediate and profound.
Tennessee has been stuck in neutral, still pining for the days of 1998. The entire athletic department needs a violent shove into the 21st Century, and Danny White can do that, as long as fans are willing to go along with him whole-hog. Some sacred cows may have to be slaughtered. That’s OK — It will work out if you let Danny be Danny.
2. White then turns around and brings Josh Heupel with him. Just in general to start, what does Heupel bring to the table?
Heupel brings offense, offense, and more offense. Of course we remember him from his Oklahoma days as their championship quarterback. He really is an offensive whiz. We thought it would be impossible to match UCF’s offensive production from Scott Frost’s two years, and then Heupel not only matched it but *improved* it in some areas. This will tax a defense, however, and fans are going to have to be OK with that. But get ready to see a lot of orange and white fireworks.
3. We know about Scott Frost’s work there before Heupel — how much of Heupel’s success is due to the groundwork laid by Frost? Did Heupel change much?
I do think Frost rebuilt the house after 2015, and then Heupel came in and re-painted, renovated a few rooms and hung some new artwork. Of course, how could Heupel improve upon the first undefeated season and national championship (yeah, I said it) in school history? But even though the production on offense remained incredible, Heupel did it with a much different system. Where Frost ran more of an Oregon-style, option-based, beat-you-to-the-outside-with-blazing-speed scheme, Heupel is an Air Raid guy, which means spreading a defense across the field and attacking the holes they leave open. If you go watch the film and compare the two offenses, it’s two distinctly different ways of doing the same thing, which is bombing defenses into submission.
4. The UCF fan reaction has been interesting. It seems that a large portion of fans are happy with his departure. Can you explain the frustrations with Heupel?
Yeah, Heupel’s departure is being seen as a win-win. UCF fans are looking at the regression from 12-1 to 10-3 to 6-4 and thinking the ship is sinking. It’s more complicated than that. But I think the real source of frustration was the fact that Heupel’s UCF teams were 2-7 in games decided by one score, and when your expectations are to win The American and contend for a NY6 bowl and *maybe* perhaps a playoff spot, those coin-flip games will drive you nuts. But former players have also expressed their happiness with the change. One complaint I’ve heard is that Josh didn’t really have a scheme to his offense — he just called plays and hoped they’d work. When teams got pressure on the passer, it did at times look like UCF was going the wrong way through a revolving door. Go watch the second half of the Tulsa game this year and you’ll see what I mean.
5. Recruiting in the SEC and the AAC are obviously different. But how did Heupel’s classes compare historically to UCF’s usual hauls?
Heupel built on the Frost recruiting paradigm of resetting UCF’s personnel to fit a much more up-tempo scheme. At UCF, he was able to get talented kids who got attention from SEC and ACC schools both out of high school and in the transfer portal. But as we know, head coaches are the closers. That’s part of the reason why Randy Shannon was brought in — to aid recruiting, especially in Florida. Ultimately, it will come down to who Heupel brings in as his assistants and recruiting coordinators, because that’s where the rubber meets the road.
6. The Tennessee job is a buzzsaw. It’s high pressure and Heupel immediately becomes the face of an entire state — a state that hasn’t won much since 2007. From your experiences, is Heupel cut out for such a challenge?
Well, you’d be surprised how tough UCF fans can be on their head coaches. Just look at our Twitter. But I think Heupel is much more prepared for the Tennessee job now than he was when he came to UCF. Remember that this was his first head coaching job, so he had to learn on the fly. Fortunately, he caught a few breaks, but at times he showed his relative inexperience. The SEC pressure cooker is a different world, and this rebuild is going to require some patience, especially given all of the NCAA issues that Heupel and Danny White will have to navigate in their first few years. But one thing that ADs and coaches learn well at UCF is how to be resourceful. Given that massive TV check you guys get every year, they don’t have to be as resourceful as they have had to be of late, but they still have work to do.