Tennessee HC Josh Heupel Discusses Harrison Bailey’s Transfer

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    Tennessee Heupel

    Tennessee Volunteers head coach Josh Heupel. Photo by Tennessee Athletics.

    With Tennessee on a bye during the previous week, the transfer of quarterback Harrison Bailey went by without much commentary behind it. However, as Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel spoke to the media to begin the week on Monday, he did mention Bailey.

    On the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 27, Bailey made his decision official as he entered his name into the transfer portal. The former five-star recruit played in seven games in his two seasons at Tennessee. Additionally, only one of those appearances came in 2021. The Marietta, Georgia native completed 48-of-68 career passes for 594 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.

    “Harrison has been a really good teammate in our building from the time I got here,” Heupel said on Monday. “In some ways, disappointed in the timing of when he makes that decision. You know, it’s a different era of college football with that transfer portal over the last couple of years. Because of who [Bailey] is and what he has been about it, I love both the person and the player. I wish him a ton of success as he moves on.”

    Additionally, Tennessee TE Jacob Warren and WR JaVonta Payton also spoke about the teammate and friend leaving the program.

    “My answer is always going to be the same,” Warren said. “I care about them, they care about me, but I have to understand that if I was in that situation, how would I want my teammates that I’ve been battling with and going through all that stuff with, how do I want them to react? The way I think about it, I want the best for him because he is my friend. So if that’s what is best for him, I just have to accept that. That’s really just all of it. I wish him the best of luck and I’m sure we will be in touch about where he is going and what he is doing. I’m just excited to see what he can do with his future.”

    Tennessee Quarterback Hendon Hooker

    Photo via Tennessee Athletics

    Even though Payton is still going through his first season as a Volunteer, a strong relationship was built between the first-year Tennessee wide receiver and the returning quarterback.

    “Me and Harrison are actually really close as his locker is literally right across from mine,” Payton said on Monday. “Me and him didn’t talk about it ahead of time, you know, it was something that he most definitely had talked through with his family and made a decision with his family. At the end of the day, though, he’s our brother. We will support him wherever he goes, whatever decision he makes… Harrison is my brother, so whatever decision he makes, we’re happy for him and are going to support him.”

    Payton’s reaction here is particularly interesting considering he was a transfer player last year himself. Therefore, Payton knows what it is like to have to leave a team while approaching a new one. Additionally, as he spoke about toward the beginning of his availability, Payton is still in touch with some of his former teammates, showing the bond that can still be carried through social media or direct conversations. Payton spoke about his reaction to watching his former team, Mississippi State, knock off Kentucky, Tennessee’s opponent on Saturday night.

    “I was proud of them,” Payton said with a smile. “I was very proud of them. I called a few of [the Mississippi State players] after the game and talked to them on that Sunday.”

    In today’s era of college football, it is becoming more and more common to see players leave a school, and even transfer to a conference opponent, without much backlash from former teammates. It’s a different world today, one where two people can instantaneously stay connected with the press of a button. That allows players to stay connected to their former friends, teammates, and as Warren and Payton said, their brothers.

    The perfect example of this is current Tennessee DB Brandon Turnage. The former Alabama player came to Tennessee last off-season, a bitter rival of the Tide. But when the two teams met up in Tuscaloosa, were there intentional cheap shots to a player that seemingly turned their back on the team for a rival? No, not at all.

    Instead, in one of the best moments of the weekend, Turnage took a large group of his former Alabama teammates to the sideline to meet his nine-month-old daughter. While Turnage had to run back to meet up with the Tennessee team, the Alabama players stuck around to take pictures with Turnage’s daughter.

    Rivalries will always exist. Between teams, fans, players, and coaches. But in many cases, in today’s world, it doesn’t look like the players are willing to sacrifice a life-long friendship because a teammate went to a rival or just left the program. Plus, who knows… former teammates from college could very well wind up longer teammates in the NFL. In the world of football, for young rising stars, some bridges are too valuable to burn down.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.