Josh Heupel’s offensive staff finally became official this week. Nearly his entire group from UCF made the trip north to Knoxville with him, bringing their proven system to the SEC East. One key part of that equation is offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, who has now followed Heupel from Missouri and UCF.
Elarbee has a challenge ahead of him after losing several key players up front from last year’s team. Trey Smith, Brandon Kennedy, Wanya Morris and Jahmir Johnson have each moved on, creating at least three new starting jobs on the offensive line for 2021.
Why take on this challenge? Elarbee answered that question on Wednesday, saying it was all about following Heupel.
“I think it goes back to when I was at Missouri,” Elarbee said. “I’ve said this a bunch. Heupel is the scariest blend of the best human being that I’ve been around that actually cares about people, cares about family and is blended with a freaky smart guy. He’s highly intelligent. I’ve never been around anybody who is that genuine and that smart at the game of football. I wanted to work for him ever since I met him. The decision was pretty easy.”
Heupel’s offenses were a mainstay in the top ten nationally during his time at UCF. He also helped transform Missouri’s offense into one of the best in the country as a coordinator, also helping Drew Lock become a second-round draft pick. His ability to coach up an offense will be put to the test at Tennessee, as Heupel is now tasked with dragging the Volunteers out of the ashes. In 2020, the Vols ranked just 102nd in total offense while averaging 346 yards per contest. UCF ranked 2nd, putting up 568 yards per game.
The new staff inherits a roster that has lost a ton of talent to the transfer portal as they try to shape Tennessee into their system. Another issue is, they’ll have to do that while facing Alabama, Florida and Georgia. We know Heupel will eventually score points in Knoxville, but how quickly can he make that happen? The good news here is that the offensive staff won’t be lacking continuity, at least with Heupel, Golesh and Elarbee.
Can Heupel make up for a potential lack of elite talent and experience with X’s and O’s? New AD Danny White is certainly shooting for that, backed up by his comments on the day of the hire.
“I looked at our student-athletes in the eyes on Saturday and said I am going to hire a football coach that I think gives you the best opportunity to win next season,” White said. “They said, ‘please do not hire somebody that you think is going to be good three or four years from now.’ I said, ‘I won’t do that.’ We want to win right away.”