Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel had an interview with 99.1 The Sports Animal on Tuesday, discussing a few topics surrounding the team, his tenure, and the future. One of the topics that Heupel spoke about was regarding his players declaring to go pro.
The specific cases that Heupel mentions are ones in which a player has the ability to turn pro this off-season, but they also have the ability to return to school for another year.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker and wide receiver Cedric Tillman are great examples of that. Not only that, but those are the players that Heupel is speaking about. After the Vols’ regular-season victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday, both Hooker and Tillman took in questions about whether they would be turning pro next year or returning to Tennessee for another year under the staff.
Heupel began by talking about when, exactly, those conversations are happening.
“Yeah, those are things that, you know, initially we had some initial conversations maybe during the bye week,” Heupel said during his interview on The Erik Ainge Show.
However, with all the moving gears in his inaugural season at Tennessee, even Heupel admits that he isn’t necessarily where he wants to be just yet from a timeline perspective.
“For year one, for myself and our staff, we’re probably a little bit behind on that side of it,” Heupel said on Tuesday. “Just helping the parents through that process, and the players as well. But I had initial conversations during the bye week and then we’re able to have some conversations here as the season wrapped up before I got out on the road, recruiting on Sunday evening.”
Heupel’s goal is to see his players succeed while at Tennessee, but also beyond as well. So, yes, he is working to get his players into the NFL, but an experienced coach like Heupel knows how important the timing of that decision can be.
“And at the end of the day you want, and I want, and our coaches want our players to go when it’s the right time for them,” Heupel said. “You want them to be able to maximize their earning potential. You want them to be able to maximize and put themselves into a position to really make a career out of it. And so you helped the players with that information, then you’re a resource for them as they make a wise decision.”
Tennessee’s first-year coach isn’t just familiar with the process of turning pro from a coaching perspective, but he is also familiar with it from a player’s perspective. Heupel understands the process of entering the league considering he was once that player himself. After Heupel finished his final season at Oklahoma, he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, a National Champion, and a First-Team All-Pro player.
As a player, Heupel was taken in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. However, due to a continuous shoulder injury, Heupel’s career as an NFL player was short-lived. Once Heupel took off the helmet, though, he put on the headset, leading to a promising coaching career over the next 20 years.