After his first season as the University of Tennessee head coach, Josh Heupel has been named a finalist for a prestigious coaching award.
With a 7-5 inaugural season record, Heupel is one of three finalists for the Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach Award. The award is given to the coach who had the best first-year with their new programs.
The Football Writers Association of America named the finalists on Wednesday, including South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn, and Tennessee’s Josh Heupel.
In his first season at Tennessee, Heupel completely changed the direction of the Vols’ football program. After a worrisome 3-7 season in 2020, Heupel has led the Vols to a 7-5 record in 2021, a Top 25 win against Kentucky, and a Music City Bowl appearance coming up on Thursday afternoon. Heupel also led the Vols’ offense to a Top 10 national mark, symbolizing how effective he has been in his first season.
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In postseason grades from CBS Sports and ESPN, Heupel was given an A- grade by both publications for his work in Knoxville. The only coach that was graded the same or better than Heupel was South Carolina’s Shane Beamer.
Beamer was given a grade of an A by CBS Sports and an A- from ESPN. After a 2-8 record in 2020, Beamer came in and led the Gamecocks to a 6-6 record in 2021. However, Beamer and South Carolina lost to Tennessee and Heupel by a score of 45-20 in a game that was never close.
Lastly, Gus Malzahn is on the list after his first season at UCF. Malzahn was the replacement for former head coach and fellow finalist Josh Heupel after he took the Tennessee job in January. Malzahn took the Knights to 9-4 in his first season.
Two of the finalists have won the award before, as Heupel won with UCF in 2018 and Malzahn won with Auburn in 2013.
Josh Heupel will lead Tennessee into the Music City Bowl on Thursday as the Vols look to take down Purdue (8-4) at 3:00 p.m. ET.