Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel’s first season in Knoxville came to a close Saturday as the Vols defeated Vanderbilt, 45-21, at Neyland Stadium.
With the win, the Vols improved to 7-5 in the regular season, tying the program’s third best regular season since Phillip Fulmer resigned. It also made Heupel the most successful first year head coach in all of the power five.
Postgame, Heupel’s focus was on his players — particularly his seniors — who he thanked for their buy in and leadership this season.
“A group of young men that have good careers ahead of them on the football side,” Heupel said. “But in life there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re going to be successful. Football prepares you in a really unique way for what’s going to happen and transpire in life. … I’m grateful and indebted to them in a lot of ways for their buy in and being great leaders and being able to communicate.
“It’s a group of seniors that’s really rare in their ability to communicate. I say that from the first minute I got here on campus. What was working, what wasn’t. What was broken and what was important to them. That laid a lot of the foundation and groundwork as far as how we moved forward and some of those early moments.”
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What we didn’t know when Heupel talked to the media Saturday night was that offensive coordinator Alex Golesh had just presented the game ball to Heupel following the win.
“This is a guy right here that’s never wavered one day,” Golesh said of Heupel. “(He’s) made this whole thing about the players. Every day, same dude. He just keeps pouring into you. Coach Huepel, appreciate the h**l out of you.”
Recruiting and the pro decisions of Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman are next for Tennessee as they await its bowl destination.
With a win in the bowl game, Heupel would become the most successful first year coach at Tennessee since Phillip Fulmer in 1993. A loss and 7-6 record would tie Heupel with Lane Kiffin’s 2009 campaign.
Watch Golesh award Heupel the game ball below.
Finished the regular season the right way. pic.twitter.com/lBlVS2cG6D
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) November 29, 2021