While appearing on a podcast earlier this week, former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield shed some light on his time with Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel in Norman.
Mayfield officially enrolled at Oklahoma in January of 2014 but had to sit out one season to due transfer rules. At the same time, Heupel was the co-offensive coordinator/quarterback’s coach, a position that he had held since 2011. By the time Mayfield was eligible to play in the 2015 season, Heupel’s contract with Oklahoma failed to get renewed, and Heupel then became the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator at Utah State. Former OU head coach and now-USC head coach Lincoln Riley would take over Heupel’s position after he and OU parted ways.
In total, Mayfield and Heupel spent exactly one year (2014) together under the Oklahoma umbrella.
“That whole process of learning from Josh Heupel, just a completely different coach, real harsh like, military kind of, and then Lincoln [Riley] comes in, more laid back, more like, ‘Okay, he’s going to make — whatever your strengths are, he’s going to try and really, really use those,'” Mayfield said while appearing on the YNK Podcast on Wednesday. “So just different types of coaching, but the timing of that was perfect. There’s no other way I would’ve made it to where I’m at right now if he wouldn’t have come in when he did.”
Baker Mayfield did not sound fond of Heupel’s coaching style at all. In fact, Mayfield says that he wouldn’t be as successful as he is without Heupel’s departure and Lincoln Riley’s arrival.
Without knowing what Heupel was like back during those years, in what has been called a tension-filled environment, that doesn’t sound like the Heupel that is in Knoxville. Maybe Mayfield had a bad relationship with the now-Tennessee head coach, or maybe Heupel has changed his ways. But from an outside perspective covering his entire tenure in Knoxville, “military-like” and “harsh” just don’t sound like Heupel.
Since the Vols’ 2021 fall training camp began, Tennessee’s players have raved about the culture inside the locker room. Players said last year that the difference between the prior year and Heupel’s first year was almost night and day and that the atmosphere around the program had completely changed.
Now, heading out of spring camp in year two of the Heupel administration, the overall sentiment from the players has been the same.
“It is definitely a change of culture,” Tennessee tight end Princeton Fant said last Wednesday. “Just, guys wanting to be here, guys wanting to compete, play ball and get better. All of us together, as a team, we are pushing each other to be the best and compete for a national championship this year. We are just going to compete and keep going. The culture has definitely changed with Coach Heupel. He is a great coach, and he is definitely leading us in the right direction, for sure.”