Heupel earns contract extension through 2029

Published 10:24 am Friday, January 27, 2023

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After guiding Tennessee to its first 11-win football season in over two decades, 2022 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year finalist Josh Heupel has earned a contract extension through January 2029, Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White announced on Tuesday.

“The results over Josh’s first two seasons speak for themselves,” White said. “He and his staff have energized both our football program and our fanbase with an aggressive brand of football, a competitive culture that creates leaders and a relentless approach to raising the bar every single day. Despite a brief period of dormancy, Tennessee never surrendered its status as a college football powerhouse. We just needed an innovative leader like Josh Heupel to reignite the spark. It’s been fun to crash the party, but as Josh said after our Orange Bowl triumph, the best is yet to come.”

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In two seasons, Heupel’s remarkable revival of the Volunteers has seen him produce an 18-8 overall record, seven victories over Top 25 teams at the time of meeting, the program’s first New Year’s Six berth in the College Football Playoff era and a No. 6 final ranking. The seven ranked wins are third nationally among FBS head coaches during that span. UT was 3-7 a season prior to Heupel’s arrival.

“I am grateful to President Boyd, Chancellor Plowman, Danny White and of Vol Nation for their tremendous support,” Heupel said. “Our staff takes great pride in representing the Power T, and it’s something we never take for granted. We will continue to work tirelessly to build a championship program that all of Vol Nation and all VFLs can be proud of.

“Most importantly, our players are the people who deserve all of the credit for our resurgence on Rocky Top. Over the last two years, they believed in us and poured their energy into every single day with hard work, leadership, cohesiveness and consistent habits. I am proud to be their coach.”

In both seasons under Heupel, Tennessee has surpassed its SEC preseason projected order of finish. Heupel’s Vols entered the 2022 campaign unranked but ascended to No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings after a rapid 8-0 start, giving UT its first top poll position since the 1998 national championship season. Heupel joined College Football Hall of Famers Phillip Fulmer (1998), General Robert Neyland (1939, ‘51) and Bowden Wyatt (1956) to lead a Tennessee team to a No. 1 ranking.

Heupel became the first Vol coach in 21 years to defeat Alabama, Florida and LSU in the same season as Neyland Stadium became the epicenter of the sport with multiple ESPN College GameDay appearances and six consecutive sellouts. UT secured its first-ever New Year’s Six bowl berth and defeated ACC champion Clemson, 31-14, to claim its first Orange Bowl trophy since 1939.

The Vols concluded the year No. 6 in both the Associated Press and USA Today AFCA Coaches polls, representing their highest finish since 2001. Tennessee defeated four foes in the final AP Top 25, which was the second-highest total among teams in the final poll. The team finished with six wins over ranked teams, tying the 1998 squad for the most in program history.

For his efforts, Heupel was tabbed the 2022 AP SEC Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award and the George Munger Award presented by the Maxwell Football Club. Heupel was the recipient of the AFCA’s Region 2 Coach of the Year, and he captured the fan vote for the Bryant Coach of the Year Award.

Heupel’s teams have established a clear identity as the nation’s No. 1 offense with an attacking defense. In 2022, the Vols led the nation in scoring offense (46.1), total offense (525.5), passing efficiency (181.4) and total touchdowns (79) for the first time in school history. That occurred after UT was the nation’s most improved offense when it finished top 10 in all four of those categories in Heupel’s first year.

The Vols finished top 15 nationally in total tackles for loss and tackles for loss per game in each of the past two seasons, including tops in the SEC in 2022 (7.2).

A year after breaking eight team single-season records, Tennessee shattered 15 program marks during the 2022 campaign. Heupel’s offensive unit rewrote the annals in total points (599), points per game, total offense (6,832), total offense per game, yards per play (7.2), total touchdowns, passing touchdowns (38), rushing touchdowns (40), completion percentage (68.7), passing efficiency, passing yards (4,239), fewest interceptions thrown (3) and first downs (330).

The Vols’ rise to national prominence under Heupel’s leadership has enabled UT to sign back-to-back elite recruiting classes. His top-10 Class of 2023 features three of the top 50 signees in the country according to On3.com, including the nation’s No. 1 player in quarterback Nico Iamaleava of Long Beach, California.

Player development has been evident as well in the Heupel era. Five Vols were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, representing the program’s most since 2017 and more than UT produced the previous three drafts combined. The Vols are poised to add to that number this spring.

Four Tennessee players earned first-team All-SEC recognition from the league’s coaches in the fall of 2022—wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, quarterback Hendon Hooker, offensive tackle Darnell Wright and defensive end Byron Young. The four selections were the most for the program since 2006.

Heupel mentored Hooker, who swept the SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards as selected by the coaches and Associated Press, after an indelible season. Hooker secured the highest Heisman Trophy finish by a Vol in 25 years with fifth place. Meanwhile, Hyatt became the first player in school history to claim the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. He earned the prestigious honor of becoming the 13th unanimous first-team All-American in UT history and the first since College Football Hall of Famer Eric Berry in 2009.

Off the field, the Vols have flourished under Heupel with 34 SEC Academic Honor Roll selections in the fall of 2021 and three Academic All-America accolades in the last two seasons combined. In 2021, Tennessee produced multiple College Sports Communicators (CSC) Academic All-Americans in the same season for the first time as Paxton Brooks and Matthew Butler received first- and second-team distinctions, respectively. Brooks repeated the honor in 2022.

The Vols’ on-field success also correlated in the classroom, as the football program’s 2022 fall semester GPA was its highest on record, with 13 Dean’s List student-athletes leading the way.

Heupel emphasized the holistic development of the student-athlete and enhanced the team’s player development staff. The group focuses on year-round programming geared toward preparing the Vols for personal, academic and leadership success, as well as community engagement efforts.

The Aberdeen, South Dakota, native owns a stellar 46-16 overall record (.742) and a 30-11 (.732) conference mark in five seasons as a head coach. His 46 victories since 2018 are top eight nationally, and he is one of only four active FBS head coaches to lead multiple programs to New Year’s Six Bowl appearances in the CFP era. His teams have earned bowl berths and finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring and total offense in all five seasons.

Heupel’s extension terms include annual compensation of $9 million, plus incentives.