It was only natural. The second Lincoln Riley bolted for the USC job, you knew the Josh Heupel rumors would begin — and they did. The former Oklahoma quarterback is coming off a wildly successful year one in Knoxville, leading Tennessee to a 7-5 record in year one. The Volunteers overcame 30 transfer portal departures, and Heupel transformed one of the worst FBS offenses into one of the best.
Following his playing career, Heupel returned to Oklahoma in the early 2000s to get his coaching start. He climbed the ladder to quarterbacks coach, and eventually offensive coordinator. However, Bob Stoops fired him in 2014 after a down year. Many in the national media immediately pointed to that reason as to why Heupel wouldn’t entertain a return to Norman.
Still, you never say never in college football.
On Tuesday morning, Heupel addressed the rumors head on in an appearance on the ‘Erik Ainge Show.’ He did his best to shut the speculation down.
“You know, as you build a successful program with your staff and players, certainly your name has an opportunity to come up for different openings,” Heupel said. “Just for myself and my family, we absolutely love Knoxville, and we came to Tennessee because of the power of the T. I believed in the power of the fan base and the opportunity to build something extremely special.
“We love being in Knoxville. That’s home for us. I love being in the building with our staff and our players, and I know, feel stronger today than I did 10 months ago when I first took the job about what we’re going to be able to do and how quickly we’re going to be able to get there.
“We absolutely love Tennessee and believe what we’re going to be building here, and can’t be happier and more excited about what we’re going to be able to do next year and in the coming years.” (99.1 The Sports Animal)
Heupel spent more than a decade as an assistant coach for Oklahoma, coming off of leading the Sooners to a title back in 2000. His offense seems like a great fit for the program, but it does also seem like Oklahoma will aim for a bigger splash, especially with their pending move to the SEC.
Tennessee isn’t a stepping stone job by any means, but we’ve seen what the allure of going home means to coaches — see Lane Kiffin back in January of 2010. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, but the fear was/is understandable.
The Volunteers are now waiting for a bowl destination to finish off year one. Heupel and his staff will look to build on early success and take another step forward in the SEC East in 2022 after a third place finish this season.