SEC Media Days: Josh Heupel embracing challenge of rebuilding Tennessee football

 Blake Lovell   in Football

(Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

Josh Heupel understood the challenge when he took the Tennessee job.

After all, the former Oklahoma quarterback has been there before. 

"I have a different perspective a little maybe of the opportunity is that Tennessee football," Heupel said on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. "I went to Oklahoma when they hadn't been to a bowl game for five straight years."

Heupel proceeded to fuel the Sooners to a national title in 2000. Tennessee's most recent national championship came two years earlier in 1998. 

Getting the Vols back there, amid plenty of uncertainty, will be difficult.

"There's certainly challenges we face as a program," Heupel said. "But there's great opportunities. That's why I came to Tennessee. This is Tennessee. This one of the iconic programs in all of college sports, in all of college football. We have an opportunity to celebrate the great traditions while putting a new age approach on it. 

"Our kids and our staff, they're all there because of that. They chose the power of T for those reasons. We're going to go out and compete every single day and push forward."

The new age approach is important. 

Heupel is widely regarded as one of the elite offensive minds in college football. He wants his teams to play fast. Really fast.

There's a method to the madness. And it's more than just how he wants the Vols to approach things offensively.

"I think a lot of people get caught up in the offensive style of football," Heupel said. "Certainly, we want to play fast with tempo, but as an entire football program, we want to play fast and be physical, but when I say the word "fast," I'm talking about in the way that we play, not just from play to play, but how we play the play.

"To do that, you've got to be able to put your kids in a position to understand what they're doing, to unlock their natural opportunities of who they are, their physical capabilities, and let them go play."

Tennesse's defense is still going to be a work in progress this season, and that may be putting it lightly. 

However, under Heupel's tutelage, the offense could give the Vols a chance. Maybe not because it'll be perfect, but because it'll be different. 

Heupel has found a recent trend that supports the need to quickly develop a high-powered offense in Knoxville.

"You look at the last three National Championships offensively, I think every team has averaged over 520 yards on offense," he said. "You look at what we've been able to do in our track record as a staff at the previous two stops at UCF and at Missouri, top five in basically every offensive category the last three years. The two years previous to that while we were at Missouri, led the league in total offense. 

"This is a quarterback-friendly offense that's going to allow us to play and apply pressure to defenses every single Saturday that we step on the football field."

Speaking of quarterbacks, that has been a hot topic among Tennessee fans this offseason.

While Heupel didn't tip his hand at who will be the starter, he did point out the strengths of Michigan transfer Joe Milton.

"Competition is the greatest friend that any coach has," Heupel said. "You have to have it in that room. It's going to drive the players inside of it when you're not around it.

"To me, Joe's got a unique skill set, a strong arm, accurate passer. I think he's a very bright young man that's picked up on what we've done so far really well. He's talented. He can spread the football field from sideline to sideline and vertically and has a unique skill set with his size and mobility to use his feet as a weapon as well."

No doubt, there's a lot Heupel has to figure out before Tennessee can take a big step forward. Some of it - potential NCAA sanctions - is out of his control.

But he's ready to embrace all that comes with stepping into the biggest role of his coaching career thus far.

"I think you grow with every experience you have, as a player, as an assistant coach, as a head coach," Heupel said. "This job is different than the job I took over at UCF, and every job is different, whether it's your recruiting base, your conference, your location, the university. There's so many factors that go into it.

"I think that I obviously have grown over the course of my three years, and being able to communicate and build a program from the bottom up."