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Josh Heupel Named Co-Winner of First-Year Coaching Award

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel and South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer have been named the co-winners of the Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach Award. The award was given out by the Football Writer’s Association of America on Monday night.

This marks the second time that Heupel has won this award. Previously, Heupel was named the Spurrier First-Year award winner in 2018 at UCF. The award does mark the first time that Beamer has won this award in his career.

Right before the calendar flipped to 2022, Heupel was named as one of three finalists for the award. The other two candidates were Beamer and UCF’s Gus Malzahn.

“This award is given to the coach in his first year at his school who comes in and exceeds expectations,” Steve Spurrier said in December, according to the Football Writer’s Association of America. “All three of these coaches got their programs heading in the right direction and they didn’t make any excuses. They took what was there and started running with it and they all had outstanding seasons.”

In his first year at Tennessee, Heupel was magnificent in reinvigorating a Tennessee football program and fanbase that has been stuck in neutral for years. After Jeremy Pruitt’s final year resulted in a disastrous 3-7 season, Tennessee was a program that was directionless. Not to mention, potential sanctions from the previous administration were still looming overhead.

Josh Heupel
Tennessee HC Josh Heupel. Photo by Tennessee Athletics.

That’s when Heupel came in and went to work. Starting with generic team-building exercises and activities, one of Heupel’s first main goals in Knoxville was to build unity before anything else. In a well-known story from the beginning of his tenure, Heupel had the entire football team play dodgeball on the indoor practice fields. After the dodgeball game, there is a video of Heupel speaking to the team, essentially saying that while dodgeball wouldn’t help them win in the fourth quarter in the fall, the unity that was being built would… and it did.

At the end of the season, it is safe to say that Heupel’s team won. Heupel’s first Tennessee team went 7-6 overall with a win over a ranked Kentucky team and a loss to 8-4 Purdue in the Music City Bowl.

Even with Heupel winning the first-year head coach award, the praise coming in his direction hasn’t been just from the F.W.A.A. Throughout the season, Heupel gained the faith and trust of the Tennessee fanbase as well. And from an analyst’s point of view, both ESPN and CBS Sports graded Heupel with an A- after his first season.

“Tennessee had several coaches pass on the job before turning to Heupel, who came in with a strong record (28-8) but came off a down year at UCF,” Adam Rittenberg said in his grades post for ESPN. “He also had only two years of SEC coordinator experience and took over only in late January. But Heupel energized Tennessee’s downtrodden offense and produced a team that has Vols fans genuinely excited about the future again. Tennessee had the SEC’s No. 3 scoring offense and No. 4 total offense, winning three conference games by 24 points or more.”

Beamer, on the other hand, led the South Carolina Gamecocks to a 7-6 overall record as well. Beamer’s season also included a victory over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Additionally, Beamer was given grades on par and even higher than Heupel. CBS Sports gave Beamer an A grade while ESPN had him at A-.

On Monday night, the Football Writer’s Association of America announced Tennessee’s Josh Heupel and Shane Beamer as the co-winners of the Steve Spurrier First-Year Head Coach award.

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