New Tennessee athletic director Danny White announced the hiring of UCF’s Josh Heupel on Wednesday afternoon to be the 27th head football coach in the program’s history. Here’s everything White said about his decision to hire Heupel:
These quotes were transcribed by Tennessee’s Sports Information Department.
“I appreciate you guys being here today. I think I’ve been on the job five days and it’s been a whirlwind. I’m proud to be at Tennessee and I’m really excited about today. I want to welcome Josh, and you will meet his wonderful family; Dawn, Hannah and Jace. We’ve rocked their world and I think they’re in the same boat now as my family, a family in transition. Really excited about having you all here as part of the Tennessee family and everything we’re excited about building here moving forward.
“I want to thank President Randy Boyd and Chancellor Donde Plowman for their support throughout this search for the last week. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity for me, personally, to be here and the future of what we have going for Tennessee Athletics and this entire institution. Our football student-athletes were phenomenal, they were really, really great. We have a special group. I want to thank the leadership committee I met with this past weekend. The insight they gave me as to what’s happening inside our football program was absolutely instrumental to help me identify the right leader that we have here in Josh Heupel of our football program moving forward.
“Had a great meeting with the team this morning. I can tell you they’re excited, ready to get to work and they’re really excited. We had an exhaustive, exhaustive nationwide search. I know that sounds crazy because I’m hiring the guy that I’ve worked with for the last three years. If anything, I was trying not to hire the head coach from UCF and I say that with respect to Tennessee, but I love UCF and I hate the transition that this is causing for the student-athletes down there. That’s the hard part of college athletics, but after going through extensive candidates we left no stone unturned. I’d like to thank the candidates; you’d be amazed if I could tell you, and I won’t, how many candidates we spoke with and there were no leaks until last night. Only two leaks that I’ve been a part of in my career as an AD and both of them happened in the last week. We need to work on that one here and we have to figure that one out. That’ll be one of my top priorities as we go through here. I really wanted the student-athletes to find out first from me and certainly I would want that for any group of student-athletes, but obviously for the student-athletes at UCF it is a shame that it leaked, but we will continue to work on that and tighten some things up. We left no stone unturned. We talked to head coaches, we talked to coordinators, we talked to long-seasoned coaches, talked to young up and coming coaches. Character and integrity were extremely important from the jump. We talked about that last week and will continue to be. I have zero questions about that with this guy. We want to build a program that we can all be proud of. After vetting every single option, we have obviously landed with a familiar face in Josh Heupel. He was our No. 1 option. This job was offered to one person. I know there’s a lot of rhetoric out there to the contrary and that is not true. We made one job offer, we got our No. 1 candidate and I couldn’t be more proud to have Josh as our new head football coach. Josh is in it for the right reasons. He’s student-athlete centered and that was his message to the team this morning. We filmed a video so he was able to talk with his team at UCF in person and we showed the video that he did for our team at Tennessee. He cares about the kids, I’ve seen that for three years. He cares deeply about their development as students, as people, as athletes and they need to know that. Future recruits need to know that and that’s what we are going to be about here at Tennessee in all of our sports.
“From a fan perspective and an AD’s perspective, this is a pretty fun brand of football. This is one of the most innovative minds in all of college football and I’ll talk about some of the statistics that they’ve accomplished. Also, one of, if not the best developer of young quarterbacks in college football. His reputation speaks for itself in what he’s been able to do as an offensive coach and as a developer of young quarterbacks. We want to build the foundation of a program, as I mentioned last week, but we are talking about football here today. We want to compete for Southeastern Conference and for National Championships. I told our student-athletes I wouldn’t share publicly much of what they shared with me about what was happening in our program for a lot of reasons. We had a great, confidential conversation but I think they’ll be okay with me sharing with you that some characteristics they’re looking for in a head coach are a little bit of confidence, a little bit of juice and a little bit of swagger. That’s something that we have in spades and something they’ll continue to have at UCF and in Josh Heupel and the staff he’ll build here and how we carry ourselves as a football program. Kids are excited, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting and I think that you guys will like the brand of football you see. Just some highlights that you can probably read, but I’ll just touch on a couple highlights. UCF, in the last three years, is the only team in the country to rank among the top-five in total offense for every single year the last three seasons. The only team in the country to average at least 522 yards of total offense in each of the last three seasons. UCF and Alabama are the only two teams to rank among the top-eight in the country in passing in each of the last two seasons. Along with Alabama and USC, the only three teams in the country to average 316 passing yards in the last two seasons. They join Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma as the only four teams in the country to rank among the top-eight in scoring in the last three seasons. And finally, they join Alabama and Clemson as the only teams in the country to average 42 points per game in each of the last three seasons. Pretty good company to be included with from an offensive standpoint. Obviously, there is a lot more to the game than offense and Josh knows that. He is going to build a big-time staff and we are excited about supporting him from this day forward to have a top-notch staff across the board and compete and he can speak way better than I can about overall plans and team success and not just offense.
“I’m hearing a lot of feedback from our fans. They want offense and I don’t know how we can deliver offense more than we just did. We’re going to move the ball and score some points around here and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’ll share with you that I got that same sentiment from the group of student-athletes I met with and they were pretty jacked up after our meeting this morning. Most importantly, we are about student-athlete success as I talked about last week. The success of the UCF football team under Josh’s leadership was accompanied with unparalleled success in the classroom. The last two semesters the football program had two of the highest GPAs ever, over 3.0 and 60% of the roster right now has a GPA over 3.0 under Josh’s leadership. As I mentioned, he does things the right way, encouraging kids to compete in the classroom, compete on the field and we want to make them the best versions of themselves and they have my commitment across all of our sports that we are going to continue to do that. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to the guy you want to hear from today and turn it over to your head football coach, Josh Heupel.”
On at what point in the search he started to have conversations with Heupel:
“It actually wasn’t until recently. The more I visited with candidates and vetted the very best coach – not just in a vacuum, but for our set of circumstances here – the brand of football, that my sense is what our fans are looking for, but more importantly what the student-athletes are really craving, what they shared with me, I just kind of realized the best option was the guy that I’ve been working with for the last three years.”
On what things Heupel brings that will translate well here and what things might have to change:
“A lot of what has happened at UCF will translate well here. What’s been accomplished there by a whole lot of people has been phenomenal. I see nothing but opportunity here. Last week the chancellor talked a lot about building, and we were about building something young at UCF and that’s going to continue to grow and I know it will. We’re excited about building Tennessee back to the point where it was an iconic brand at one point.”
On the patience it will to take to rebuild the Tennessee football program:
“I am impatient, but I have to show patience. Our fans have to show patience. We don’t know what success looks like next year or the year after. There are a lot of challenges. I know that kids want to compete at a high level next year. I know that our head coach wants to compete at a high level next year, and I do too. We are going to go out there and try to win every single football game, but we have to understand the challenges that we’re facing in terms of a competitive level, where we’ve been, obviously the investigation and some of the unknowns there. But, 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. 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, but we all need to have some things in perspective and understand that Josh and his staff he’s going to put together, their focus is going to be on being competitors from day one, but also building this thing for the long haul. Like I talked about last week, consistently competitive and build it in a way where it is sustainable, build it the right way, do all the things we’ve talked about. Be student-athlete centered and extremely competitive.”
On how Heupel has changed in the last three years and what was unexpected in the coaching search:
“You learn a lot through every life experience, professional experience. Is Josh a better coach than he was three years ago? Heck yeah. He’s grown a lot and I’ve grown a lot as an athletic director. I think the experiences we go through make us better. This press conference is going to make me better. That’s why as we go through a search, we value those experiences and we value people that have been a head coach, that have kind of walked in those shoes.
“To talk about experiences again, going through several searches, what I’ve leaned is you really can’t have expectations because you don’t know where you’re going to land. At the beginning of this, I did not expect to hire Josh Heupel, not because I don’t think he’s one heck of a football coach, I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t think that, but I really didn’t want to do that to UCF. I know I have some people mad at me right now. I love y’all, I promise. I love UCF and I want the very best for that place that’s been so good to me and my family, but searches are fluid and you need to take all the information you can. As I said last week, I am far from the smartest person in the room, but I was extremely close to this and I’m moderately intelligent, and I worked really hard to make the best decision that I think is in the best interest of Tennessee, knowing everything I had learned from student-athletes, from our leadership, from information I gained from key alumni and donors, and just try to make the right fit. It’s about fit. Sometimes it’s not just a location thing, it’s a status of the program thing, it’s a status of the roster thing, it’s a leadership thing, there’s so many factors that go into fit and at the end of the day, in my assessment, this is the very best fit for us. Josh Heupel is going to do a heck of a job as our head football coach and I couldn’t be more excited to have him here.”
On how he responded to fans comments about the investigation and what he said to Coach Heupel about the investigation:
“I had the same questions two weeks ago when I was assessing coming to Knoxville and being a part of what I mentioned last week, which we’ve got a long-term unbelievable opportunity to restore this brand and do some really great work here. This is a short-term problem, and I think our leadership has done a phenomenal job identifying the issue, working with, I think, the very best law firm that works on these sorts of things with the NCAA, and being extremely proactive and very transparent with the NCAA staff. I think we’re attacking it head on, and by doing it that way I think we’re going to get through it. I say fairly quickly in comparison to some other examples that we’ve seen historically in college athletics. This is a short-term issue and we expect to put it in the rearview mirror as soon as possible and continue to move forward. That doesn’t stop us from building our long-term vision now and for starting to build the foundation now while managing what I think our new head football coach called it—a speed bump.”
On why the search did not start with Josh Heupel if he was the leading candidate:
“I didn’t have a top candidate at the beginning of the search. I think I said last week I don’t start a coaching search with a specific endgame in mind. I don’t think that’s smart. I learn as I go through a search. I learn before I start interviewing people. I didn’t talk to a single candidate until I had gained as much information as I could—until I had met with our student athletes and learned from them. As I go through those interviews, I go learn through those interviews. We interviewed good people. They’re smart people too. They know more about football than I do. I learned about their opinion of the situation and I can compare all those conversations and all of that information led to the decision that I made, and I couldn’t feel better about it.”
On if he was aware of Tennessee fans’ love of tracking planes during a coaching search and if he tried to talk to the NCAA about the violations:
“I know that they tracked a plane that took my family back. My kids had to go to school. I will say that had nothing to do with the search, but I’m pretty sure that they paid attention in class this week.
“I didn’t talk to the NCAA directly. I don’t think they need the fundraising, marketing-focused, hard-charging AD—I wouldn’t understand what they were saying to me. People way smarter than me talked to them and briefed me so I was able to talk to coaches about the set of circumstances that were forecasted. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Between the outside council we’re working with and our compliance folks that have a ton of experience in that area, they’re having those conversations and educate me about it.”
On how important it was for Tennessee to quickly hire him and for him to quickly hire Josh Heupel:
“I think it was really important. I think it’s a strong sign of smart leadership. John Hitt, the retired President at UCF did the same thing. He hired me there to then hire a football coach. We’ve talked quite a bit over the last couple of weeks about the alignment of our leadership. Good leadership, strong leaders hire people to do their jobs. I’ve received nothing but unbelievable support throughout this search since I raised my hand to come here to Knoxville. I think hiring an athletic director and then hiring a football coach is how it should be done. I feel unbelievably honored to be empowered to manage this athletics department and lead this athletics department into hopefully a really prosperous and bright future.”
On Scott Carr being named interim Athletics Director at UCF:
“Scott Carr is a talented leader. I’m excited for him. I talked to him just a short while ago. UCF has an incredibly bright future. It was really hard for me to leave. I know it was really hard for Josh to leave. We talked about it. We love that place and I know it’s going to continue to grow. Scott’s going to do a great job for them and I’m going to help in any way I can. President (Alexander) Cartwright is an unbelievable leader. I told him last night that anything that I can do to help in this transition, now that I’m through the search, I’m 100% on board to help them in any way that I can be of assistance.”
On the responsibility of Josh Heupel to help restore Tennessee:
“I mentioned earlier about restoring an iconic brand in college sports. I think with any successful organization, it starts internally. It starts with those kids. It starts as we build and he builds a staff. It grows to that staff and then it grows to the rest of our athletics department, all of our supporters, our university leadership, our fans and donors. You’ve got to start, most importantly, with those student-athletes and make sure that we’re doing the right things every day to maximize who they can be and that we’re recruiting the right way to bring new kids in to be a part of what we’re doing. That’s what we did at UCF. You can’t start a marketing campaign to sell out a stadium or to win football games. You’ve got to be really good and really true in walking the walk and following through with who you say you want to be. I know that’s what he’ll do. That’s his ultimate responsibility.”
On his message to the Tennessee fan base about maintaining positivity:
“Some of you are awesome. Some of you are failing right now. Why would we be negative? The future of this place is unbelievably exciting and positive, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here and I see nothing but great days ahead. I know that our fans are extremely passionate, and I love that. I can’t wait to know many of them and work with them. I can’t get to know them all because there’s so many of them, but the idea of turning your passion and something you love into negativity, I don’t understand that. I think that this athletics department has been through some challenges, and again, we have really great days ahead. I think people will see that and start having some more fun with their Vol fandom.”
On Heupel putting together a coaching staff:
“What I mentioned earlier about our leadership empowering me to run our athletics department, I don’t know anything about running a football program, but this guy does and he has a proven track record of doing it. All of those decisions will be his as our head football coach.”