Another outlet has recognized Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel for his impressive turnaround in the 2021 season. The Football Writers Association of America named him as a co-winner of their 2021 Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach Award, given annually to the coach (or in this case, coaches) who impress the most in their first year at their school. The other co-winner of the award this year was South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer.
The press release notes that Heupel is the first ever two-time recipient of the award, having won it back in 2018 during his first year with the UCF Knights. Heupel is also the first ever Tennessee coach to win the award, which dates back to 2002.
According to the press release:
Heupel is one of only five Vol head coaches in the last 80 years to win seven or more games in his first season. UT shattered eight single-season team records under his watch, 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).
Very few would argue Heupel didn’t deserve the award. Some might have an issue with the award being split between two coaches, one of whom actually beat the other by 25 points. We did a breakdown of the best performances by first-year head coaches, which featured both Heupel and Beamer. We concluded that the numbers backed up Heupel’s case.
However, Beamer also did a good job at South Carolina given the circumstances. The Gamecocks making a bowl game was predicted by almost no one in the preseason. I can understand a national organization wanting to recognize both coaches for a job well done. It just so happens that they are in the same division.
The award also highlights just how difficult the SEC East will be in the years to come. The Georgia Bulldogs stole the show with a national championship, and both the Volunteers and Gamecocks are highlighted as teams on the rise for the next few seasons. There will be some captivating football next year.